Movie Review: “Patriots Day”

Mark Wahlberg, J.K. Simmons, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, Alex Wolff, Themo Melikidze, Michelle Monaghan, Jimmy O. Yang, Melissa Benoist
Peter Berg

Over the last few years, director Peter Berg has carved out a nice little niche for himself making unapologetically patriotic films about real-life heroism in the face of adversity. Much like “Lone Survivor” and “Deepwater Horizon,” Berg’s third collaboration with Mark Wahlberg doesn’t really have anything important to say politically, but it’s their finest movie to date and perhaps their most meaningful one due to the actor’s close ties to the city of Boston. Though some people will question whether “Patriots Day” arrives too soon after the true events that inspired the film, Berg does the story justice with his gripping yet tactful retelling of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the five-day investigation that followed.

The movie begins on the morning of April 15, 2013 and introduces several of the key players involved in the tragic event, including Boston cop Sgt. Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg), Chinese exchange student Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), Watertown police officer Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese (J.K. Simmons) and the bombers themselves, Kyrgyzstani-American brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze, respectively), who detonate the homemade bombs about four hours into the race and then return home to watch the ensuing chaos on TV. Meanwhile, law enforcement officials work together under the guidance of FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) and Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) to recreate the crime scene and comb through hours of video surveillance in order to identify the suspects, eventually leading to a manhunt through the streets of Boston and the surrounding suburbs to capture them.

“Patriots Day” isn’t the awards-worthy film that Berg was likely hoping it would be, but while there aren’t any standout performances among the cast, the acting is solid across the board. Though Wahlberg falls back on his usual everyman shtick to play Saunders, it’s appropriate considering the character isn’t based on a real-life person; he’s essentially a composite of several people, serving as the connective tissue between every pivotal moment in the story, which explains why he always seems to be in the right spot at the right time. Simmons, Goodman and Melissa Benoist (as Tamerlan’s enigmatic wife, Katherine Russell) are also good in supporting roles, although Berg should have spent more time developing their characters instead of wasting it on redundant subplots (like what MIT police officer Sean Collier was doing in the days leading up to his murder) that don’t improve the story in any substantial way.

Where “Patriots Day” succeeds best is in the detailed reenactment of the investigation and city-wide manhunt. Though the measured buildup to the bombings is packed with tension, it pales in comparison to the way in which Berg captures the chaotic aftermath. There are a number of thrilling sequences throughout the film – from Dun Meng’s kidnapping to the final showdown with Dzhokhar – but the high point is a violent firefight between Watertown police and the Tsarnaev brothers on a quiet residential street that looks like it was plucked straight from a war movie. It also perfectly encapsulates the type of film that Berg has set out to make, one that’s less concerned with the politics behind the incident than the heroics of those who brought the attackers to justice. “Patriots Day” could do with a bit more subtlety at times, but it’s a well-made if somewhat slight memorial to the victims and their families that embodies the Boston Strong spirit.