Directed by Peter Berg
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Monaghan, JK Simmons.
Director Peter Berg seems to have found an odd niche of late, directing American disaster films based on real events and staring Mark Wahlberg. It may be strangely specific, but it has worked for both Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon (critically rather than commercially). So how will Patriots Day work, with it’s coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing?
On April 15, 2013, two improvised explosive devices were detonated in the crowd gathered at the finish-line of the Boston Marathon. These events are seen through the eyes of Boston PD Sargent Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg), as he attempts to assist in the aftermath, and subsequent investigation into the terrorist bombing.
This is a film in which the sum of its parts are greater than its whole. That’s OK, as those parts are well worth experiencing on their own. Berg has a knack for being able to throw audiences into the centre of an extreme situation, and it is used to great effect here. The bombing sequence and the immediate aftermath are intensely visceral, leaving you dazed and overwhelmed. It’s covered from multiple angles, splicing in actual footage recorded from various security cameras and phones, the same footage that became so prevalent during the media’s coverage of the event (as well as being utilised in the investigation). By doing this Berg adds to the authenticity, by linking to our experience of the event, and threading his narrative through that. It’s a smart piece of chicanery, and helps lend weight to the piece.
Even when he creating a scene from whole cloth, there is power here. During an extended gun battle, Berg again throws the audience into the middle of the action. Less reliant on found footage than almost any other event in the film, he stages the entire sequence with a general’s eye for tactics and strategic placement. You are never lost in the action, and the entire sequence feels stunningly real in its scale and staging. It really is a gift.
So, what’s the problem?
Well, despite giving a good timeline of the events, Patriots Day lacks in terms of narrative. The events seem somewhat disjointed, and the story wanes at time. There is an attempt to address this in the creation of Wahlberg’s character. He’s a composite of a number of real life Boston police officers, a cipher to allow a constant point of view, but it still feels forced and a little lacking in execution (despite Wahlberg’s best efforts). In all this is probably just the nature of the beast, and is going to occur when you try to cover a wide range of complex real events, from multiple points of view – something is inevitably going to be lost. From this point of view Patriots Day may have benefited from a tighter focus, but that is certainly not a deal breaker.
A solid effort that occasional stretches for something greater. It’s a well told story, but the ambitious nature of trying to cover so many points of view over such a fixed time-frame, takes its toll.