PATRIOTS DAY

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Peter Berg

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J K Simmons, Christopher O’Shea, Michelle Monaghan, Alex Wolff, Themo Melikidze, Rachel Brosnahan, Jake Picking, Jimmy O Yang, Melissa Benoist, James Colby, Michael Beach, Adam Trese, Khandi Alexander.

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Is it too soon for a film depicting the 2013 terrorist bombing of the annual Boston Marathon? Some would probably say yes and suggest that the film touches a nerve that is still pretty raw. But others would argue that a film like Patriots Day treats the subject with sensitivity and integrity and respect, and captures the essential spirit of the city in the aftermath of the tragedy. The filmmakers have been careful to honour the victims and heroes of the tragedy.

At the end of the running of the Boston Marathon in April 2013, two bombs exploded near the finishing line, killing three people and injuring over 200 other people. For the next three days following the bombing a pall of terror gripped the city while a massive manhunt to find the perpetrators was underway.

Patriots Day is a gripping and gritty police procedural as it follows the efforts of the Boston Police Department and the FBI to identify and track down the bombers. This is fairly visceral depiction of the bombing and the aftermath and it comes from director Peter Berg, whose previous film was Deepwater Horizon, a true life story about a massive disaster on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. As Paul Greengrass did with his 9/11 docu drama United 93, here director Berg also employs a documentary-like approach to the material, which brings an immediacy and a sense of urgency. And he even incorporates actual archival footage and mobile phone video of the bombing, which lends authenticity to the film. Early scenes are filled with subtle look at the citizens of Boston going about their routine while the city prepares for the running of the marathon.

Those scenes of the carnage wrought by the two bombs is a sharp and disturbing contrast and are a little difficult to sit through without being moved or shaken. To further enhance the air of authenticity, Berg has actually filmed several scenes on the actual locations and used many of the people who were there on the day as extras.

A number of personal dramas are interwoven into the narrative, giving the events a more human focus. We even gain some insight into the motivations of the two bombers, played here by Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze.

But the film also gives us information that is not as well known, such as how the attempts to capture one of the bombers turned a quiet suburb of Boston into a virtual warzone. These scenes are directed with Berg’s typically visceral style.

As is becoming more common with films based on real life events now, we get to meet many of the actual persons involved as the end credits roll. Casting of some key roles is spot on and the actors closely resemble the real-life characters they play, and for the most part they deliver convincing performances. John Goodman especially looks very much like Boston’s police commissioner Ed Davis, who was in charge of the operation to capture the bombers, while J K Simmons also bears a striking similarity to Watertown’s police sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese. Kevin Bacon brings his usual gravitas and sense of authority to his role as FBI special agent Richard DesLauriers. Mark Wahlberg, in his third collaborator with director Berg after Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, plays heroic Boston police officer Tommy Saunders, a composite character of several police officers involved in events. It’s the sort of role that Wahlberg has filled capably in recent years. Wolff (from In Treatment, etc) is cast against type as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the bombers.

Even though much of the outcome is known, Patriots Day manages to keep audiences on the edge of their seats for much of its running time.

★★★☆

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