Almost 4 years after the tragic bombing of the Boston marathon, director Peter Berg offers a recounting of the attack and resulting hunt for Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev with Patriot’s Day. It marks Berg’s 2nd venture into the world of films based on real-life events after Deepwater Horizon, which was based on the explosion of a US oil rig in 2010.
Just as he did in Deepwater Horizon, Mark Wahlberg stars as the main character in Patriot’s Day, this time playing Tommy Saunders, a composite character based on several Boston police officers from the original bombing. The film, rather than focusing solely on Wahlberg’s character, focuses on a core group of characters, including Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky (Christopher O’ Shea and Rachel Brosnahan respectively) and FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon), Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), as well as other individuals.
Whereas so many films of this kind can fall into the trap of acting almost as pro-Murrica propaganda, Patriot’s Day thoughtfully handles the events of the real-life tragedy and the individuals involved. It becomes a powerful exploration of human endeavour and perseverance in the face of extreme adversity, while also critiquing the practices of law enforcement in such situations.
While it is slightly unfortunate that Tommy Saunders’ is not a real-life person, that does not take away from Mark Wahlberg’s performance. His portrayal is thoughtful, emotional, and engrossing. His character has a certain every-man appeal which makes him, and thus the officers he is based on, relatable.
Wahlberg is not alone in this regard. The entire cast, whether it is Christopher O’Shea and Rachel Brosnahan’s thoughtful and charming portrayal of real-life newly-weds Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky, or JK Simmons’ often humorous turn as Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese, or Jimmy O. Yang, who played Dun Meng whose car was hijacked by the Tsarnaev brothers, each member of the supporting cast does a stellar job.
However, the strongest performance is that of Kevin Bacon as FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers. While many action films which see a superior officer take over a criminal investigation often portrays the superior officer as an antagonist, DesLauriers comes across as a commanding character who often gets overwhelmed by the investigation which he is overseeing. The character, and the performance of Bacon, is endearing and relatable, which just adds to the recounting of the story.
The acting is not the only thing going for this film. The writing and direction is done with the utmost care to get the events right while preventing the film from becoming a stereotypical action flick. Not just that, but the imagery and cinematography capitalises on the devastation and heart-break with great deference, while also being entertaining and engrossing. The shootout in Watertown, in particular, is chaotic and intense while slightly exaggerated.
The most commendable part of the way this film is written is that it examines the way that the American police system handles situations such as that with the Boston marathon bombing. Whether it was the refusal to allow Katherine Russell, the widow of bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev and who is portrayed by Melissa Benoist, to have her lawyer present during her interrogation, or Wahlberg’s character’s bewilderment at the order for police to detain suspects with the reading of the Miranda rights, Patriot’s Day offers a critique of how America reacts to such emergencies.
The most powerful critique, however, is when Wahlberg’s character reacts angrily to the procedure involved when moving the dead.
However, at the other end of the spectrum, there are some negatives. The message that emerges, roughly, “We need to love each other to defeat terrorism”, although valid, is introduced to the film so abruptly that it lacks any sort of emotional punch or weight.
Not only that but, while the film is often historically accurate and consistently loyal to the real-life events, there is one notable historical inaccuracy. During the investigation of Katherine Russell, she is portrayed as being resistant and uncooperative in providing information to the authorities. However, her lawyer, Amato DeLuca, has said that this is not true.
“What I quarrel with is the license they take in portraying Katie as someone who did not cooperate and try to save lives. She did everything she could”, DeLuca told the Boston Magazine.
Overall, Patriot’s Day is a thoughtfully written and powerfully acted film which, while containing some historical inaccuracies or exaggerations, does a great job of recounting the tragic event.
Patriot’s Day is in cinemas nationwide from 23rd February.