Patriots Day Blu-ray Review

Patriots Day

Peter Berg follows up his last two, Mark-Wahlberg-starring, based-on-a-true-story movies with… a Mark Wahlberg-starring, based-on-a-true-story movie.

Hey, if it aint broke.

Out on blu-ray this month, Patriots Day is an adaptation of the book Boston Strong, by Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge, about the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013, in which 3 people were killed and at least 264 wounded.

If I remember the news footage correctly, there were dozens of people from various corners of the law enforcement community involved in the search for those responsible for the bombing. But for the purposes of the film and for the sake of giving the audience a relatively omnipresent viewpoint, Wahlberg plays specially-created character, Tommy Saunders. Saunders, a Boston cop, is a composite of several real-life counterparts.

The film opens with a glimpse of Saunders in action, followed by brief scenes of various other people who are destined to play significant parts in the week ahead. These include Watertown police sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese (J K Simmons), MIT officer Sean Collier, student Dun Meng, young couple Patrick Downe and Jessica Kensky and brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

On the day of the marathon, Saunders, temporarily reassigned to beat duty, is tasked with overseeing security at the finish line. He then suddenly finds himself thrust headlong into the terrifying attack.

As with all retellings of real-life events, factual accuracy could be thoroughly debated, alongside the appropriateness of release date. The 2016 Boston Marathon was used as a backdrop for filming, reputedly earning a fair share of protests. For some, it is too soon to revisit these events. For others, it is not soon enough.

Given the subject matter and unadorned style, a film which immediately leaps to mind is Paul Greengrass’ United 93. Like that movie, the actual outcome is well known to most people, posing the question: how do you create tension and engage the audience for the preceding two hours?

Whilst Berg does not quite nail the Greengrass levels of near-docudrama, he has produced a gripping account of the tragic events and subsequent manhunt. Suspense is duly wrung out of scenes such as the carjacking and final showdown, whilst the suburban shootout scene reaches high levels of panic and chaos.

Most compelling of all are the scenes involving the high-level stakeholders in the investigation, such as the FBI special agent, the Boston Police Commissioner and the Governor of Massachusetts. All clearly want the same end-result but find themselves drawn into arguing over the most efficient way of getting there.

Berg is aided in his endeavour by a strong cast including John Goodman, Kevin Bacon and Michelle Monaghan, in addition to Wahlberg and Simmons. Simmons’ admittedly brief turn as Pugliese is particularly effective.

The film ends on a powerful note, predominantly focussed on Kensky and Downes, which is heartbreaking, inspirational and most importantly respectful.

Conor Brennan

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