The third instalment of Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg’s real life tragedy collaboration and possibly the most risky of choices so far. The Boston Marathon bombings of 2013 were a mere four years ago, recent and fresh history, the film tackles the event and the manhunt that ensued to find the men responsible for taking 3 lives and injuring hundreds of people, some of whom losing their limbs. Also starring: John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Kevin Bacon, Michelle Monaghan, Melissa Benoist, Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze.
The most surprising aspect of the film appears within the first few minutes of the film, as we’re introduced to Mark Wahlberg’s character Sgt. Tommy Saunders, who is based on several of the police officers who worked on the day of the bombing and that aspect is humour. It’s most often that true to life tragedy stories are racked with sadness and darkness but Berg take’s a different approach here, though the reality of the horror is certainly present, the addition of humour adds a whole new level. You would almost think it inappropriate and yet it makes the characters and people who lived this terrible day feel more relatable, which is exactly what you want, you want to feel what these ordinary people felt as they went through this ordeal, at least in a minor way. The opening also makes for a perfect way to set up Wahlberg as the centre for the film, the element that brings everything together and he does a fantastic job. More and more this actor has shown he has a stronger talent than he gets credit for, it started with Boogie Nights now in its 20th year and it came into force with The Fighter, Lone Survivor, The Gambler and Deepwater Horizon. Patriots Day is the culmination of that change, it combines the element of heroics, action and bravado with something emotional.
As the story really takes hold and the bombings commence, the film puts aside the humour and takes you swiftly into the reality of it, there is gore and madness to recreate just slightly what happened, but it doesn’t take it so far as to look like a horror film, it’s enough to impart the serious violence that occurred. Once these moments have passed, the story becomes tracking down the men who did this, putting every resource and manpower into it becoming a massive manhunt and the film becomes more intense and gripping with a superb pace. Which leads to another, slightly different, stand out performance which is Jimmy O. Yang (Silicon Valley, The Internship) as the young man who was carjacked and held by the bombers to help them get out of town, it’s funny and real and gives the film some great moments. There are a few aspects that may feel a little strange, Supergirl’s Melissa Benoist playing a terrorist’s wife, the terrorist’s getting screen time which feels almost humanising as characters, it’s slightly unusual and possibly unnecessary but it does add a certain interesting edge to the film. It’s a difficult thing to make a film about a real event that hurt so many people, in a respectful way and a way that makes a great film but Berg achieves that here, mostly because the film has an inspiring message. To some it may feel extremely American but it feels patriotic in a much more universal sense, it may be a film about Boston but the meaning extends far past that, it’s about coming together in hard times, being a community and the strength in sticking together.
Patriots Day is moving, heart-breaking, intense, engrossing and it simply is extremely watchable, it has strong direction and a clear, powerful message. The acting by all is great, Wahlberg’s standout monologue may not have happened in real life but it’s still emotional and touching. It is certainly the pinnacle of Wahlberg and Berg’s work together and fair warning, be ready for a few tears when the real victims and officers appear before the credits roll.