Movie Review: ‘PATRIOTS DAY’ – Life, Love and Hope

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Courtney Howard // Film Critic

PATRIOTS DAY | 2h 10min | Not Yet Rated (but probably R)
Directed by: Peter Berg
Starring: Mark WahlbergMichelle Monaghan, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, Rachel Brosnahan, Christopher O’Shea, Jimmy O. Yang, Alex Wolff, Themo Melikidze,  Melissa Benoist, Khandi Alexander

America has seen its fair share of domestic terror incidents. Just off the top of my head I can name a small handful of devastating incidents that befell our country. The one thing that each has in common – more than the hatred that inspired the heinous acts – is the overwhelming love that comes out of it. And if someone is going to perfectly capture the moments leading up to, during and after a distressing event, it’s going to damn well be director Peter Berg. There’s no other storyteller out there who can weave a true life tale filled with villains and heroes like he can. However, PATRIOTS DAY attempts to balance everyone’s perspectives, and in doing so, it deals a few others short shrift.

We awake in the wee hours of April 15, 2013 and the city of Boston is preparing for the big annual marathon and Red Sox game. We meet a laundry list of characters – the victims (or “ambassadors for peace,” one said they prefer to be called), eyewitnesses and the terrorists – as the new day dawns. The race begins with no problem. Cheering people gather on the sidelines, filtering into bars and businesses. Cops take their posts to monitor any arising trouble. And it’s all celebrations as the runners trickle across the finish line. But that’s when disaster strikes – two homemade bombs explode along the runners’ path, killing and maiming innocent bystanders. As the city erupts into panic, authorities keep calm on their intense, four-day search to apprehend the perpetrators.

Mark Wahlberg in PATRIOT'S DAY. Courtesy of CBS Films.

Mark Wahlberg in PATRIOT’S DAY. Courtesy of CBS Films.

Berg’s hallmarks are all here, just in case you doubted you were watching a chapter of his unofficial “based on a true story” trilogy. Frequent collaborator Mark Wahlberg, who turns in solid work again, is your other clue. From LONE SURVIVOR, to DEEPWATER HORIZON, to now this, all three are paced similarly. Waking up with any of these three films’ married couples, with wives beckoning their heroic men back to into bed, makes me think I’m doing marriage wrong. Story beats are familiar, beginning with character set-up, followed by the disaster, followed by heroic rescue, followed by conclusion, followed by testimonials and/ or “in memoriam” segments, followed by credits. Though I do wish he would break out of this formula and show further growth as a filmmaker, I understand the impulse not to mess with success.

All that said, Berg, along with screenwriters Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer, know where the interest lies – in the naturalism of the every-day, real-life character-driven dramatics. Considering this has a huge cast of characters (and heavy hitting actors who play each role), the filmmakers do the best they can to find the balance, making the audience care about each and every person affected that day. Is it totally successful in doing so? Not exactly as some characters – like the young married couple (played by Rachel Brosnahan and Christopher O’Shea) – are forgotten about until we need the manipulative montage that makes watershed moments possible. Some characters are given too much screen time – like the MIT police officer (played by Jake Picking). He has three establishing scenes, but we already like him after one. The film’s best and electric sequences I wished they allotted more time to dealt with how the FBI Agents were able to sift through what little information they had, using technology and old-fashioned skill.

Despite the film simply ticking the boxes with the dramatics, its action sequences are some of the most intense and harrowing I’ve seen this year. I felt it in my chest. My palms were sweating during the Watertown shootout, and jaw was agape. However, what comes through more than the violence is the city’s resilience and ability to find strength in such profound sadness. That speaks louder than any explosion.

PATRIOTS DAY played AFI Fest on November 17. It opens in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles on December 21. It opens nationwide on January 13, 2017.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.