Director Peter Berg/2016
Initially, I had a lot of trepidation about Peter Berg’s upcoming film, Patriot’s Day, which chronicles the horrific bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon and the subsequent police search for the two bombing suspects. Mainly, I was worried that a “ripped from the headlines” type of film about an event that is still fresh in the collective minds of our nation, would simply sensationalize the events into a fictionalized story that would dehumanize the victims of this terrorist act, and of the many Police officers, first responders, and citizens who rose up in the Boston community to help their neighbors and find the perpetrators behind these events. Fortunately, Peter Berg seeks to simply chronicle the events and honor those I mentioned, and in the process, he creates a compelling film that is worth a trip to the theater.
If I had to pick a contemporary comparison for a film like this, though not a perfect comparison, it would be Zero Dark Thirty. Like Patriot’s Day, Zero Dark Thirty gives us a film that tries to show the events that transpired for its respective story. Both were produced a short time after the events they depict, and both work hard to avoid taking a definitive position other than trying to be a bird’s eye view of how things went down.
Patriot’s Day seeks to celebrate the lives of those lost and affected on April 15, 2013, and at the same time give the rest of the world a bird’s eye view of how those events unfolded and were pursued by American law enforcement agencies.
Peter Berg’s film focuses on Policeman Tommy Saunders, played by Mark Wahlberg. A man who speaks his mind, to the chagrin of Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), Tommy has been in the doghouse recently and is given the assignment of dressing up in blues and working the Boston Marathon as his last payback before he is reinstated. Calling it his “clown suit”, Tommy reluctantly gets dressed, nursing a hurt knee and heads down to do his last piece of penance so he can get back to plain clothes and the homicide division.
The first part of Patriot’s Day spends what seems like an excessive amount of time introducing us to various individuals like Patrick Downs (Christopher O’Shea), Jessica Kensky (Rachel Brosnahan), Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), Officer Sean Collier (Jake Picking), Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese (J.K. Simmons), and a host of other M.I.T. students, and individuals. As the film unfolds, you will see the significance of each of these people as Peter Berg will weave them in an out of the events that take place as a way of humanizing the tragedy and showing us just a small sample of the many lives that were forever changed. The film also features Gov. Deval Patrick (Michael Beach), Tommy Suander’s wife Carol (Michelle Monaghan), and F.B.I. Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon).
Once the race begins, the tension picks up. The two bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze) and his younger brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff) are not treated with kid gloves as it relates to their ethnicity or religious beliefs. They are also not dehumanized into 2 dimensional monsters either. We are introduced to them as they hang out in their apartment, and in the case of Dzhokhar, we are given a glimpse of the friends he had at a local college. While the more volatile Tamerlan is shown to be operating from a more rigid Islamic ideology, the film shows that Dzhokhar is much more westernized in his thinking and is content to play video games, eat snack foods, and smoke pot, but is participating more out of fear of his older brother.
Peter Berg manages to keep the car between the lines and delivers a tense and suspenseful thriller along with an inspirational and hopeful message, grounded in the very real human stories that came from the ashes of this tragedy.
For those familiar with this event, it will be very obvious where all of this is heading, though because of the individual stories that were introduced in the film’s first act, you will have a vested interest of seeing how all of these lives intertwine on those fateful days. The director adds a nice touch at the end of the film of showing footage of the actual people that were portrayed as a sort of epilogue of what they are doing now and how their individual story continues to be an inspiration as an example of the larger story of the entire Boston community that came together in the aftermath to support one another. There is also the effect of showing solidarity with those communities in Paris, San Bernardino, Orlando, and more who have also faced similar acts of terrorism and responded through acts of love.
Patriot’s Day seeks to celebrate the lives of those lost and affected on April 15, 2013, and at the same time give the rest of the world a bird’s eye view of how those events unfolded and were pursued by American law enforcement agencies. While this film’s approach of a sensitive subject in our nation’s recent history could easily fall off the path into the ditches and become a dehumanizing and mindless action flick, or focus so heavily on the terror and dread felt by those at ground zero at the finish line of the Boston Marathon that it becomes a sad film reminding us we are never safe wherever we are, it doesn’t. Peter Berg manages to keep the car between the lines and delivers a tense and suspenseful thriller along with an inspirational and hopeful message, grounded in the very real human stories that came from the ashes of this tragedy. It also shows a city that earns its reputation.