Review: Patriots Day


By Andrew Clarke (@AwaitingAndrew)
Patriots Day is based upon the true story of the Boston marathon bombing and the hours and days that followed the horrific event.
Patriots Day opens the night before the marathon. In the hours leading up to the event, we are familiarized with a cast of characters including Mark Wahlberg’s Sgt. Tommy Saunders, and we wonder what role each individual will play, whether hero, victim, or otherwise, until their pivotal moments are realized. Likewise, this film gives us a rather deep insight to the bombers, portrayed by Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze. We see them some before the act, and then director Berg follows their characters rather extensively as they seek to escape their consequences.
Patriots Day is the third collaboration in the past few years between director Peter Berg and actor Mark Wahlberg, following 2013’s Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon last year. Each of these films is a Hollywood take on a true event. Wahlberg’s character here, Sgt. Saunders, though somewhat based on a number of officers, is fictional. This allows his character to be the star, as he can be everywhere to witness events unfold. With that said, the majority of the rest of the cast are based upon real people. Like the Hollywood trend in based upon true event films, I am thankful that Peter Berg showed us the real heroes at the film’s conclusion, as well as paying tribute to the departed. Before I watched this film, I saw J.K. Simmons promoting the film on The Tonight Show where he brought the man he portrayed, Watertown Police Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese, and his wife along to be in the audience in a touching move. I knew then they they picked the right actor to depict this hero.
Each of the actors, like J.K. Simmons, give strong performances in Patriots Day. Mark Wahlberg as the film’s star, though a fictional character is the standout. There is one scene in particular where he comes home from unquestionably the longest and most horrific day of his life and Wahlberg, though lately often over the top in his films, displays all of these emotions without flaw. Also noteworthy is Jimmy O. Yang (Silicon Valley) who plays Dun Meng, a graduate student who is overjoyed at his new Mercedes SUV and a promising first date. His story is shown in between sequences of Wahlberg and the Boston marathon, and, while he’s a quickly likable person, it leaves those of us unfamiliar with the details pondering as to his role and why his story is being shared… until it comes to light. By the point in Patriots Day in which his story merges with the main plot, Meng is easy to root for.
Berg and cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler (Lone Survivor) treat this film almost as if it were a documentary. Of course, there are plenty of big moments to be seen, but not everything is conventionally shot. In filming Patriots Day, Schliessler utilizes a lot of the found footage style. Many moments are seen on the big screen through smaller cameras, whether those come from security footage or nearby cell phones. And this technique works wonders for Patriots Day, as it greatly increases the tension we feel in making the on camera situations all the more real. They do use some shots that are attempted subtle hints at what is to come for a certain character, but hit with repetition it becomes quite obvious.
I, like most if not all of you, knew the story of the Boston marathon bombing and the subsequent #BostonStrong movement, but I was unfamiliar with the aftermath involving the heroes, the victims, and the suspects – which is truly the focal point of Patriots Day. Like all based upon true event movies, this script is surely glamorized but gripping nonetheless.
Unfortunately, Berg and his co-writers omitted the story of Dennis “D.J.” Simmonds, an African American police officer who died later from injuries sustained during the events of the aftermath of the bombing. He’s not even pictured in the closing of the film where the fallen are honored. A number of officers are thrown into the fray of the film, and his story could have – and should have – easily been included. It’s a baffling decision to leave out someone like Simmonds, who deserves to be recognized and remembered.
Aside from that glaring issue, I found few problems with Patriots Day. Peter Berg’s film is an incredibly intense thriller that gives immense insight to the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombing and an inside look at how the Boston and Watertown Police Department and the FBI went about identifying the suspects and tracking them down. Patriots Day shows how a community of people rises together following a tragedy and in support of those who risk everything to prevent a similar act from happening.
I give Patriots Day an 8.

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