Patriots Day Review

Patriots Day (2016) Movie Review by John Walsh

Director: Peter Berg
Writers: Peter Berg (screenplay), Matt Cook (screenplay)
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Monaghan, J.K. Simmons

A tense, thrilling and at times moving re-creation of the 2013 Boston Marathon and the subsequent four day manhunt. Patriot’s Day from Peter Berg rather effectively weaves together the different perspectives of the victims and law enforcement officers involved, as well that of the two Tzarnaev brothers responsible for the hideous atrocities on that fateful day, into a single cohesive storyline.

The film begins with a quick introduction to the cocky, insubordinate, Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg); as he kicks down a door, busting his knee in the process, and deals with a case of domestic violence, involving a half naked man and an iron. It then introduces the other characters that will form the various different perspectives of the story throughout. Both Jessica Kensky (Rachel Brosnahan) and her husband Patrick Downes (Christopher O’Shea), Sergeant Pugliese (JK Simmons), Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang) and then finally Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff) and Tamarlan (Themo Melikidze) Tzarnaev. These fairly short introductions serve as precursor to the marathon and the attack itself, really helping to add a personal touch to what’s about to unfold.

The lead up to the attack is very well handled by Berg, with the various cuts between each of the different perspectives, not to mention the use of real footage of the day and a shaky handheld camera style, helping to really rack up the tension. Despite knowing what is about to unfold, it still hits hard when the bombs go off. The image of the explosions in the densely packed crowd had a profound effect on me and the excellent use of sound during these moments, with a brief period of high frequency static, which I’d imagine the unfortunate people there on that day must surely have experienced, really added to the sense of momentary paralysis as Tommy and the others looked on in disbelief at what was unfolding before their eyes. The immediate carnage afterwards wasn’t watered down any to avoid viewer discomfort. Blood could be seen everywhere, severe lacerations and dismembered limbs were lying on the ground, all very vividly captured and strangely more powerfully emotive within the civilian environment of downtown Boston, than if say, it was shown within a war film.

Tommy, the main focus of the film for the main, then tries to regain some control in the chaos, rushing to the aid of causalities, calling in ambulances and demanding the marathon be stopped. The first fatalities, including an eight year old boy are shown shortly afterwards, before the FBI and Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) arrive on the scene to takeover at once, and incur the wrath of Tommy instantaneously by overruling his request to move the bodies. “We got to tell the parents that their son is still lying in the fucking street? No fuck that” he rants. DesLauriers meanwhile, quickly identifies the likely terrorist connection and requests a large command centre be setup immediately from which to commence the investigation.

There’s a powerful moment when Jessica and Patrick are both stricken with severe leg injuries that ultimately lead to amputations. The former completely unaware of the severity of her own wounds, attempts to save her husbands life by fashioning a tourniquet out of a belt before both a rushed to hospital. Tommy attempts to take some short respite from the horrors he’s witnessed and has to throw relatives out of his house that are making him endure the Spanish Inquisition. His respite proves to be very short indeed though, as he gets called back to the command centre, following a breakthrough, to impart his knowledge of the Boston streets on DesLauriers, from which they retrace the bombers steps and manage to obtain photos of the pair.

Despite the discovery of the perpetrators and being in possession of relatively clear photos, DesLauriers remains unwilling to publicly blame the bombings on radical islamists through fear of backlash against other muslims. He faces heavy pressure, however, with Tommy telling him he has to “let Boston work for us” and an angry Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) telling him that it’s his city and they should be released. The matter quickly gets taken out of their hands however when a leak to Fox News is relayed to the team and DesLauriers, visibly angry himself now, is forced to concede. With the pictures out in the public domain, the manhunt for the brothers quickly picks up in pace and they’re forced into running, not long beforehand they’d been seen watching the aftermath of the events on the news.

During the beginning stages of the manhunt, the young police officer Sean Collier (Jake Picking), seen sporadically before, is shot dead outside MIT, Dzhokhar’s college friends then discover his role in the bombings and choose not to disclose it with the police, before finally, Dun gets kidnapped and has his Mercedes Benz car highjacked by the pair. The kidnapping of Dun turns out to be the biggest mistake they could have made though, as the car has GPS tracking, and after dithering too long, and showing their complete incompetence during a stop at the gas station, Dun manages to escape and alert the police of their location. A furious firefight breaks out shortly afterwards between the brothers and two police officers, with homemade grenades being thrown, causing untold chaos. Sergeant Pugliese then has his moment, arriving on the scene and quipping in with “Yeah, no shit. I’m gonna flank them” after one of the other cops tells him they’re being shot at. A sequence of craziness that could be straight out of a Benny Hill sketch then unfolds with shots being fired, more grenades being thrown, before a downed Tamerlan fresh off a bit of wrestling with Pugliese, is run over by his escaping brother. The film then enters its finale with Dzhokhar’s hiding place being tracked to a boat in a driveway. There’s a short and tense standoff with a host of enforcement officers and FBI agents, zeroed in on his location, before finally the younger brother is smoked out and detained.

The film features strong acting performances from pretty much everyone involved,  but it’s the law enforcement characters, played by Wahlberg, Bacon, Simmons and Goodman that are the standouts. Wahlberg in particular, as you’d expect from a native Bostonian, delivers an emotionally powerful performance as Tommy. His character also has his fair share of humorous moments and dialogue, which really helps soften the overall tension and drama surrounding him. Bacon is fantastic as DesLauriers, a man grappling with political correctness and facing increasing pressure from the Boston police force to take decisive action. Goodman and Simmons are both fantastic as the charismatic commissioner and hardened Sergeant respectively. Melikidze and Wolff are more than decent as the bombers. The latter portraying the immature, idiotic, pot smoking Dzhokhar, that’s seems either detached from reality or blissfully unaware of his actions, scarily well. The former portrays his role as the older Tamerlan with a scary intenseness.

Thematically, the film focuses strongly on the bravery of the law enforcement officers, that have in recent times, taken a bit of a pounding for their heavy handed, ignorant handling of certain issues, and to be fair it does this very well. It helps remind us that these people are human and that the vast majority risk everything to protect innocents whilst doing there job every day. Another strong thematic point is the strength of the Boston spirit and how love will ultimately triumph over evil. Berg does a great job of showcasing this spirit in various different ways throughout. Renown for its toughness and strong sense of community, he perfectly captures this with the banter between the local police officers and the FBI agent working during the manhunt and also the way the citizens continually come together in the face of adversity. There’s one standout moment in particular, involving a man who throws a hammer at an officer before diving back inside his house during a heavy firefight, with pipe bombs getting thrown in all directions, provoking a look of disbelief from the officer.

A few short interviews with the real people involved in the attacks plays out before the final credits roll. The poignant completion of the Boston marathon by the real Patrick Downes, beautifully encapsulates the determination of the Boston populace.

I loved watching this film. There’s clearly been a lot of time and research done on the subject, and whilst it’s not perfect by any means, it’s tactfully handled and an enjoyable watch.

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