I went into Patriot’s Day fearing that the film might turn into a massive pro-America bravado movie that is high on action, but low on brain power. Instead I was genuinely surprised at how gritty and powerful this movie actually turned out to be.
The movie follows the tragic events of the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, briefly building up to the event itself, but focusing mostly on the subsequent manhunt that went into finding and capturing the men responsible for the crime. It’s a turn of events where we already know what’s going to happen, but filmed with such intensity that you feel deeply moved and excited for what’s to come anyway.
The movie focuses on several characters and their involvement in the events. Some simply as victims of the event or aiding in the manhunt, outside of the perpetrators themselves of course, who are an obvious focus of the story. While most of the characters in the movie are real, the lead character, played by Mark Wahlberg, is purely fictional and serves to simply tie up certain events together which in reality all involved small contributions from different people.
From the beginning it becomes evident that this is not a film about character building, but focusing on the events in the story. The movie moves quickly in introducing new characters without really allowing you to get to know anyone too well. However, while this might detract from some of the emotional concern you have for the characters, it allows director Peter Berg to superbly build tension up to the events of the bombing and then keep it going throughout. Berg is on top form in this movie, constantly keeping you busy with a moving camera and many hand-held style shots, almost akin to watching a war movie. In fact, the actual bombing scene in the movie actually reminded me a little of Saving Private Ryan in its direction where the soldiers are under fire but never fully aware of what’s going on. The scene is filmed in a similar fashion that makes you personally connect with the mayhem and confusion the people of Boston actually went through.
Berg also utilized a good combination of surveillance and TV footage during the latter manhunt that makes you feel you are part of figuring out all the clues along with the characters. It’s a stroke of genius and shows how far Berg has come as a director from his early days as a pretty story-light director. The fast editing and pacing of the movie is also superb, maintaining the intensity of the movie throughout. I mentioned that the film is gritty and it certainly is. Berg has not shied away from making certain scenes in the film feel like a city at war and so can be pretty graphic and hard hitting at times. The cinematography from Tobias Schliessler certainly helps to give the film a dark tone, more reminiscent of your typical war movie.
As the for acting, the film features quite an impressive ensemble featuring John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Kevin Bacon, Michelle Monaghan and Melissa Benoist bolstering Wahlberg, and they all certainly live up to their talent. While no one actor takes up screen time for long, the small glimpses that you do have are well done. What stood out for me most though is the many smaller cast members and local actors that contributed to the film and while their parts are all relatively small, they remain convincing and well portrayed. I found Alex Wolff’s portrayal of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the bombers, particularly strong as it paints a very human side to the character and not just as some terrorist monster which is what I was expecting. His brother on the other hand is portrayed this way, however.
Towards the end, the film ties up the events of the film to the real characters and where they are now, which tries to bring the film to a strong, emotional conclusion, yet seems a little out of place from the gritty movie you’ve just witnessed. Outside of these last moments though, the film does a great job at steering clear of any chest pumping patriotism and remains remarkably grounded.
Another standout part of the film was the exceptional score of Messrs. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who have been responsible for scoring the last few David Fincher films. While this score might not be as prominent or powerful as The Social Network or Gone Girl, it does a great job of being haunting when it needs to be or creating a strong scene of atmosphere to the events on camera. It’s a more subtle score from them, but also plays a large part in the movie feeling as powerful as it does.
The movie has its flaws, particularly knowing that Wahlberg’s character is fictional robbing the film of some of its authenticity. The script does feature the usual contrived FBI and cop infighting though and I’m not sure why films always try to include them, especially when it doesn’t add anything to the film and it felt a little unnecessary here. Berg also overdoes the fireworks of the shootout scene with the perpetrators just a tad, which makes for a great action scene, but again removes some authenticity from what is supposed to be a true life story. This is Hollywood though and you kind of expect it these days.
Patriot’s Day is certainly recommended if you are looking for a tight thriller or even just want to know more about the events of the Boston marathon bombing. As someone who has ran this marathon and been some places in this movie, I certainly feel it does a great job in emphasizing the significance the event had on the city of Boston and the marathon itself. It’s an intense affair and often not for the emotionally faint-hearted, but Patriot’s Day is definitely worth watching.[As a side note: Sadly, despite the fact that they were filming the movie while I was there and even while I was running the race, my tired marathon runner impression was not clearly good enough to make the final cut. I guess my film debut will have to wait for another day.]