It’s some time since any degree of positivity has come out of a bitterly divided, and divisive, US of A. Peter Berg’s Patriots Day – a vivid, evocative and unflinching retelling of the April 2013 Boston marathon bombings and their immediate aftermath – is both a fitting tribute and respectful commemoration of those killed and wounded and a stirring reminder of the kind of solidarity which at least the good people of Massachusetts’ state capital are capable when their city, freedom and liberty come under fire.
And who better to have around in a time of crisis than Mark Wahlberg? The Dorchester-born local lad featured in writer-director Berg’s Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon and is once again an assured, charismatic everyman here as a fictionalised beat cop on home turf which he must know like the back of his hand. Around him orbit an ensemble of well known supporting players: a typically bullish John Goodman as Commissioner Ed Davis; House of Cards‘ Rachel Brosnahan as a woman grievously injured in the blast; Kevin Bacon as Special Agent Richard Deslauriers; a bumbling, yet badass J. K. Simmons as suburban police sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese.
The list goes on, but none have the screen time or material to leave a lasting impact. Even Michelle Monaghan, as Wahlberg’s dutiful, understanding (he has a drinking problem) wife is almost a marginalised bit part. But as is underlined by an emotional coda which features some of the people on whom these characters are based, the collective notion of #BostonStrong which was issued forth after these terrible events is what matters here. Further, it must be said that the build-up to the explosions, as well as the breathtaking side street firefight between brothers Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff) and Tamerland (Themo Melikidze) Tsarnaev and Watertown police late-on, are both extremely well orchestrated.
Cross-cutting, shaky camerawork and efficient editing of news and CCTV footage into the film all combine extremely well for a heart-stopping, gruesome sequence that effectively conveys the horror and disorientation of the attacks. Up to this point a continual, at times almost imperceptible, ringing wavers on the score which makes the disparate scenes of domestic bliss uncomfortable despite all the hugs and ‘I love yous’ between loved ones. During this ratcheting pressure cooker of excitement in those assembled for the race and spine-tingling ill-ease for a viewer there remain a few missteps which later stumble.
Aside from a snippet of a bomb-making 2.0 video there is little background on how the brothers – for the most part presented as misguided, lacklustre, disorganised amateurs – came to construct such devastating explosives. Who are these men? What are their motivations? For his part, Wahlberg has a knee injury along with his drinking problem. The obvious irony of this when he is given one last chance to prove himself by marshalling an event of such elite athletes adds both humour and further pathos to his character’s physical emobident of triumph over adversity and the never-say-die attitude that Patriots Day espouses. It’s old-fashioned, workmanlike police procedural fare which limps, jogs and occasionally breaks into an exhilarating sprint.
Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens