Patriots Day review – an intensely moving and compelling film

by | 23 Feb 2017 | Film Reviews

‘The story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the manhunt for the terrorists responsible.’

Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg join forces once again after recently collaborating on Deepwater Horizon to portray another true life event. This time their sights are set on the tragedy that befell the 2013 Boston Marathon when two bombs went off during the race.

It’s amazing how quickly things can slip from our memory just through the passage of time. Even more so in this super-fast and busy age we find ourselves in, where we can barely remember what happened last week, let alone last year, and all the days seemingly blur together in our heads.

For those of us who weren’t there, the Boston marathon bombings in 2013 can shamefully feel like that, where life just went on and we easily forgot a tragic event like that. In that case then, although some might think it too soon to depict the bombings in a feature film, and be in bad taste, it also doesn’t, and feels like an appropriate time as any other to remind us what happened on that day, and the days that followed

The story follows Wahlberg’s Police Sgt Tommy Saunders as one of the men who was there at the finish lines when the bombs went off. From there, we see other various authority figures and survivors scramble together to make sense of what just happened, and the manhunt that took place over the next few days to find the culprits.

What could have been really exploitative by using this horrific, real life tragedy and packaging it exclusively for entertainment purposes, is thankfully handled with sensitivity and care by Berg, and at no time does it feel like he’s using the bombing purely as a backdrop for a standard thriller film.

He achieves this by rightly putting the focus squarely on the people of Boston, the survivors and the authority figures whose lives were impacted the most on that day. The investigation, although important, is secondary to the citizens of this city, who were galvanised into working together, and show a great community spirit in bringing the perpetrators to justice. Yes, we do have some of the clichéd butting’s of head between different law enforcement’s on how to do things, but overall there’s a comradery between everyone In wanting to catch the bombers.

This people based focus is portrayed perfectly in those opening moments of the film, where we see various people throughout the city waking up to that fateful day, just living their everyday lives; spending time with their families and getting ready for the marathon. It’s a peaceful and uneventful montage of normalcy that’s about to be thrown into complete and utter disarray, and even though we know it’s coming, having that opening, makes it that more shocking when those bombs go off and shatters that serenity.

What follows is a harrowing scene that’s presented realistically with hundreds of people injured and bloody, where amongst this sea of chaos, husbands and wives, and parents and children are being separated, and the police also trying to bring order and help, while in a state of shock themselves; it’s an unnerving and authentic depiction that still probably doesn’t do justice to the actual event itself.

From that moment on, as we follow the subsequent investigation and manhunt, the whole mood of the film changes, and what follows next is an urgent race against time to catch those responsible before they can do it again. The tone and the way Patriots Day is filmed is very much in the style of a documentary, with a lot of hand held camera work, as we follow people around and have zoomed in close-ups of people’s faces.

This is also helped by having the film spliced with actual archive footage of this terrible act of violence and the days that followed. It’s paced appropriately as well, as if we’re watching this story unfold as it happens. Overall, it feels like Berg’s only aim is to remind us of what happened, as violence and shoot-outs aren’t glamorised or presented very cinematically, but looks and feels more like this fly-on-the-wall documentary.

Although a serious and tragic topic, Berg does infuse an undercurrent of optimism throughout the film, where we see this strength of love and compassion, and how this city’s unity is solidified after the bombings. It’s very moving at times and it helps draw you into these people’s lives and make a connection with them, filling you with hope more than pessimism.

Also, although Wahlberg is marketed as the lead star, and he does a great job as this fictional character who is ultimately our eyes and ears into this story, all the cast show to much respect to make it about themselves. No one overacts, or tries to hog the spotlight, and you really get the feeling that they’re all there because they want to tell this story more than anything else, presenting a united front, and embody that “Boston Strong” slogan to the world.

‘Patriots Day is a sensitive and moving film.’

A movie that takes its subject matter seriously and never plays it purely for entertainment value. With solid direction from Berg, a respectful cast, an authentic and documentary aesthetic. It’s a film that successfully reminds the world what happened on April 2013 and honours all those involved.

David Axcell

Film Critic

David has quite a broad taste in film which includes big budget blockbusters and small indie films; including International and Arthouse cinema. As long as it’s good in that particular genre, he’ll watch anything.

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