By: Amelia Solomon (A Toast) –
Patriots Day focuses on the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and resulting terrorist manhunt that gripped the nation. The film is based on the book Boston Strong, which was written by Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge. It’s the third collaboration between 1980s actor turned producer Peter Berg and actor Mark Wahlberg. They previously worked together on the action films Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon. It’s proven to be a successful partnership, in that their telling of well-known American true stories has been both critically and financially successful.
Berg served as director of the film and co-wrote the script with Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer. Wahlberg is also supported by a strong crop of actors including Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, Michelle Monaghan, and Whiplash’s Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons.
Patriots Day evokes a feeling of patriotism, without ever diving off the deep-end into an abyss of cheese and “Go USA” chants. It reminds viewers what is great about Americans; that they have a hero inside of them and compassion for their fellow citizens. That in times of extreme crisis they can ignore the divisions that divide them and show love for one another. It’s a simple message and one that Berg hits home throughout the entire film.
Mark Wahlberg has been a star since his breakout performance in 1997’s Boogie Nights. He plays the role of Boston Police Sergeant Tommy Saunders. He’s assigned with crowd control at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, a task it seems he deems beneath him. Whether he was at the wrong place at the wrong time or the right place at the right time will continue to haunt his character. But by witnessing the bomb explosions and subsequent carnage he’s forever changed. The attack becomes personal, and Tommy Saunders makes it his mission to find the attackers. There has been some backlash about Wahlberg’s character, because it’s a fictional person; a composite of three real-life Boston policemen. However, I didn’t see an issue with it, because Tommy Saunders serves as the vehicle for which to engage the audience and have them experience the tragic events as they unfold. Writers often take liberties with facts, and in this case the end justifies the means.
Michelle Monaghan plays Tommy Saunders’s wife, Carol Saunders. Her role is limited to the supporting spouse, like most female characters in these types of films. But, there is an intimate scene in which she pours a bath for Tommy so he can soak his swollen knee, after running into mayhem to save people during the attack. Nothing is spoken, but the emotions on her face reveal an effective performance.
John Goodman is the Boston Police Commissioner, Ed Davis, who must do territorial battle with the FBI, represented by Kevin Bacon’s character, Special Agent Richard DesLauriers. Both men inhabit their roles well, showing the strain they are under to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice. J.K. Simmons’ character is the Watertown Police Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese. He’s in charge of a neighboring suburb of Boston and never expects to become embroiled in a manhunt for two dangerous terrorists. But when the search ends up on his turf, he puts his life on the line to take down the Tsarnaev brothers. Simmons does an excellent job of morphing into his character, playing the everyman small town cop.
Patriots Day is rife with tension, creating nerve-wracking anticipation in the viewer as they await the heinous act they know is coming. The sound of the two bombs detonating is deafening and startles the audience. The climax scene in Watertown, in which the local police attempt to apprehend the psychopathic Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his clueless younger brother Dzokhar Tsarnaev is excellently choreographed. But the scene that is the most memorable and delivered the most tension is the one in which the brothers carjack Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang) and force him to drive them to New York’s Times Square. It’s this life or death situation that Dun Meng finds himself in that makes it feel so real. With perspiration on his face, he makes an insane but heroic attempt to escape. This entire sequence defines nail-biter like nothing else I’ve seen before.
Perhaps what makes this film seem so honest is its use of real footage from the day of the marathon, along with the live newscasts that covered the hunt to identify and find the Tsarnaev brothers. There’s also an epilogue that includes interviews with the actual victims of the bombing, whose stories were portrayed in the film. Director Berg was smart to add this, as it makes the gravity of what happened hit home and doesn’t allow the viewer to get up and leave unaffected when the credits roll.
The musical score was composed by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor of the band Nine Inch Nails. They also have collaborated before and have created haunting music that only further elevates the films they’ve worked on, such as The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl. They are masters of heightening the tension, and I couldn’t think of anyone else whose work would complement Patriots Day so well.
Patriots Day is an important piece of work that belongs in an anthology of movies that explore unforgettable American events. Peter Berg commented, “…What I learned very quickly from Mark and from Boston is that these unintended acts of terrorism, these cowardly barbaric acts of just sheer lunacy… actually bring us together and that love does rise and love triumphs and the very best of ourselves comes out….”
Patriots Day (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: each time a character says, “I love you.”
Take a Drink: each time a shot is fired.
Do a Shot: when Dun Meng escapes.
Shotgun a Beer: when Dzokhar surrenders.