I did not want to watch Patriots Day. A combination of release, during what will be referred to as my movie “Dark Time”, a general distrust of Peter Berg, and an ill feeling I have toward latter day Mark Wahlberg.
That did not stop me from subjecting myself to it and, buddy, let me tell you, I don’t regret it.
Color me shocked how engaged I was by this film. Two biggest things it has going for it: the movie is a technical marvel and Reznor/Ross’ score elevates the material (like they always do.)
This is the best Peter Berg has ever directed a movie. Granted, I haven’t seen most of them, but I can’t imagine he would be able to capture the lightning in the bottle that he does here. Berg gets a lot of assistance from the factual story, riveting and sad in its own right. It never grows stale because it bounces from the initial attack to multiple standoffs. The tension never slows. The Watertown shoot out in particular is worth calling out. The chaos of that night is pretty evident in the recreated scenes. Are some of the explosions a stretch? Probably. Does it feel visceral and terrifying? Yes.
The movie tells the story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. It follows multiple people who were there day of and assisted in the eventual capture of the bombers. You would be forgiven if you thought this was a military movie, but alas, it is actually a police procedural. The police, in a post 9/11 world are the military. And I guess vice versa. The movie has no issues blurring the lines, as they were during the real life man hunt. Our cops are normal people who also grab machine guns from their patrol cars. America!
There is a point in the film, where the Tsarnaev brothers, who are the marathon bombers, have kidnapped a Chinese exchange student, Denny. For whatever reason, they do not kill him, merely carjacking him. While Tamerlan Tsarnaev is driving, ultimately to set up more bombs in New York, he tells Denny that the media has lied to everyone and that 9/11 was not committed by Muslims. He asks Denny if he agrees. Denny does. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, in the backseat, asks if he really does or just doesn’t want to die. Denny admits he just doesn’t want to die. They then go on a screed against the media, informing Denny that it is corrupt. This is supposed to be a moment in the film where you catch your breath, one of the only times we see that the brothers have been misinformed and have been “radicalized.” It, to me, is also a moment played for laughs. That someone could believe that it wasn’t Muslim extremists.
This movie came out in 2016. In 2016 we were supposed to assume that these people were crazy.
Berg does his best to be Paul Greengrass here, who directed United 93, and famously presented 9/11 factually and without favor. So scenes like this play it straight. We are dealing with monsters, but they are also real people.
The only person not real here is Mark Wahlberg. The biggest criticism the movie faced, maybe besides ”too soon” is the fictional character, portrayed by Wahlberg, Tommy Saunders. Saunders does not exist in real life or on the screen, rather he is a Forest Gump, stumbling into every major part of the journey as a taco filled with Bostonian stereotypes. He is awful. Sticking out like a sore thumb whenever the movie, unwisely, cuts back to him. Just as disappointing is his wife, the completely underused Michelle Monaghan. I feel for her, typecast not only as a “wife” here but also having to lean on her Boston accent. She isn’t a real person, why even have her exist? Especially when you give her so little to do. Sorry, when you give her ABSOLUTELY nothing to do. Was there not ONE person that Wahlberg, who seems to be contractually obligated to be in movies about Boston, could play? It is the grossest oversight in the movie.
But I liked it. No lie, I was ENTHRALLED, so I’ll give props where props are due.