Director: Peter Berg
Screenplay: Peter Berg, Matt Cook, Joshua Zetumer
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, J. K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan
Runtime: 133 Minutes
This is the third consecutive collaboration between director Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg in a trilogy of films centred around real-life events of conflict and tragedy. Lone Survivor was an intricately made war film with muddled characterisation, but his depiction of the BP oil spill disaster in Deepwater Horizon was a shock to the system; a genuinely proficient technical drama confined to the explosion of said oilrig and the lives of those aboard it.
Patriots Day takes procedural elements of the latter and the brutal combat action of the former to depict the horrifying events of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and the results are a mixed bag of overwrought themes and contemporary discussion.
The handling of an event such as this is painful, to say the least, and there’s no particular way to handle a situation as devastating and truly uncomfortable as this and leave any of the real-life victims satisfied with the production. Like with Deepwater Horizon, the screenplay by Berg and co. chooses to home in on the messiness of the operation and the muddled, testing intricacies of the routine aftermath that immediately follows it. Drawing in a handful of different perspectives of proceedings from angles including the victims, the police officers and FBI, and those caught in the in-between as well as the two bombers themselves.
The bombers are portrayed as delusional, violent idiots with no real control over the situation and an increasing panic at being caught, and the likes of dramatists such as Kevin Bacon, John Goodman and J. K. Simmons enter the frame at varying points with predetermined significance while trying to fit the pieces of the investigation together. But we are primarily saddled with the viewpoint of Wahlberg’s fictitious character of Sergeant Tommy Saunders.
Wahlberg is decent in the role (as is pretty much everyone else) but the fictitious character that he portrays brings two issues to the forefront; one being that even though the narrative licence is there to give the audience a POV perspective of the events, it’s alienating to see the real-life participants and heroes maligned to see the lionising of Wahlberg as both a poorly written character and as a performer as the apparent hero of the hour. When surrounded by the stock type supporting roles filling in the blanks of real allocated importance to the case, Saunders comes across as not only blatantly fictitious, but almost like a super cop entering the frame with near precognitive abilities to fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle. It doesn’t feel like an intended accident, but it comes across as a transparent falsification in the presentation.
Besides this ill judgement, the film still isn’t all that notable beyond its general aptitude as a thriller. Peter Berg’s visuals mine a good amount of tension out of sequences, remaining as impressive a technician as ever with a vigorous staging of sequences and a great sound design. The use of news and archive footage comes into startling effect the moment the chaos begins, yet while its well implemented the inherent insensitivities and rawness of the situation feels incompatible and downright insensible when the prosthetic blood flow and gore effects enter the frame. Much of the ensuing horror is only made more awkward via the screenplays oddly placed humour and treacly dialogue in the name of Boston spirit.
Patriots Day is a mildly discourteous exercise, and as far as Berg’s filmography goes it pales in comparison to his last film, but there’s enough here to keep it engaging even through the lens of its difficult material.