Films based on true events always have an uphill battle, usually because there is the actual record of what transpired, and with films based on recent, or current events, there is already a connection to the facts that make a dramatization more difficult to pull off. Patriots Day is the most recent example of a film based on a real world event, one from very recent memory, which combines actors portraying real people, and real events, with a fictional character added in to form a more cohesive plot. Patriots Day is the third collaboration between actor Mark Wahlberg, and director Peter Berg, all three of which have taken to the dramatic retelling of real events. The film chronicles the harrowing week in April 2013, that followed the bombing of the Boston Marathon, and the subsequent investigation and manhunt for suspects, Tamerlan, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The film boasts an impressive ensemble of actors, who portray real people involved in the tragedy, from Police Officers and FBI personnel, to victims and first responders. The work to capture these different stories of determination, heroism, bravery, and love, is the heart and soul of this film, and it is clear that Berg and Wahlberg have taken the time to explore, and appreciate all those involved.
Where the story falters however is the inclusion of Wahlberg’s character, Tommy Saunders, a fictional character, who permeates every aspect of the incident, and the investigation. The problem isn’t Wahlberg, he does a wonderful job in the role, and his acting conveys all of the emotions that a Boston Police Officer must have been going through, after witnessing and experiencing those events, as he has anger, and passion, and a scene where he breaks down in the first moment he gets to go home after the bombing. The problem arises from the fact that Tommy isn’t a real person, and with so many real people throughout this film, it sort of takes away from their story, and the work they did, to end the manhunt for the suspects. It isn’t hard to see why the Tommy character is included though, as he is the glue that holds the story together, without the central character, the film would have turned into a series of vignettes, woven together over the course of that week, and most likely would have felt disjointed. However while the plot of film plays out, there are just too many scenes where Wahlberg becomes the lead man, and is integral in a way that just isn’t believable. Two scenes in particular stand out, the discovery of the hiding spot where the suspect was caught, is done all by Wahlberg, taking over for local P.D., and another, where the FBI lead asks Wahlberg to tell them from memory, which stores on the route have cameras they can check, which plays out like a scene from Sherlock, or the Mentalist. These are not to say that these scenes weren’t intense or intriguing, it is just that Tommy feels like a character, and not like a person, which in a movie surrounded by real people, stands out more than it should.
While the above criticism may seem harsh, or make it seem like this isn’t a good film, that isn’t the case, this is a very good film. The main overall story, is wonderful to follow, the introduction of several different key characters are all told throughout the course of the film, and include some really great human moments. The film does a wonderful job capturing the heart and resilience of a city that came together in the wake of tragedy, and all involved should be proud to have capture these moments they way they did because they feel incredibly real. The cast is outstanding, John Goodman play Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, who works, and clashes with Kevin Bacon’s FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers. The scenes between these two during the investigation are wonderfully done, and shows the passion from both sides to get the job done, despite differentiating opinions on how to go about that. The film also captures the stories of real world victims such as M.I.T. Police Officer Sean Collier, played by Jake Picking, a married couple injured and separated in the attack, Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, portrayed by Christopher O’Shea and Rachel Brosnahan, and kidnapping victim Dun Meng, played wonderfully intense by Jimmy O Yang. The performances while not the bulk of the film, help humanize the story, so it is about more than just the manhunt, but is also about those affected. The actors portraying the Tsarnaevs, Alex Wolff, and Themo Melikidze, do a wonderful job of bringing to life the two men who held the city hostage, and their performances showcase both intense and scary individuals, with moments of an unnerving calm, in the moments before and just after executing their attack.
Clearly Berg and Wahlberg have found pattern for success, and the two have crafted a film with action, intensity, and moments of genuine human emotion. The film is wonderfully shot, and it is a credit just how hard to watch the actual bombing, and the immediate aftermath are to watch. Neither feel overproduced, and the moments of panic, and anguish come through in all aspects of these scenes. There are missteps, such as the final confrontation, where the shootout between Police and the Tsarnaevs feels a little over dramatic, especially the moments with J.K. Simmons’ Watertown Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese, but the intensity of those moments is still thrilling to watch, mostly because of the amazing Trent Reznor score that accompanies the film.
Patriots Day is not without its faults, and could really have been brought down by the inclusion of the Wahlberg character, but there is so much to like about this film that none of the negatives take away from what presented. While there are moments of humor that feel out of place, there are also fantastic moments that tie the film together. All of this is capped off by real life footage and interviews by the real people involved, which show that the incredible story was truly about real people who had been through so much, and who in the face of terrible tragedy, overcame and triumphed.