Patriots Day Review

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by Casimir Harlow Feb 24, 2017 at 7:22 AM

  • Movies review


    Patriots Day Review

    Director Peter Berg teams with Mark Wahlberg once more for Patriots Day, another decent based-on-a-true-story disaster thriller.

    After the exhausting Deepwater Horizon, the director/actor combo once again deliver the goods with this look behind the 2013 Boston marathon bombings and the exhaustive manhunt conducted to catch those responsible. Despite the director's predisposition towards lacing his features with overly patriotic sentiments, Patriots Day shows considerable restraint - especially given the expectations commensurate to its very title - and plays out like a cross between an epic police procedural and a comprehensive documentary covering the horrific events.
    There are hints of many of his previous works in the pot here - from the similarly themed The Kingdom, which was wafer thin but made for an effectively tense action-thriller (something this never aims for) to the aforementioned Deepwater Horizon, which similarly went to great lengths to establish the reality of the very human individuals who were so dramatically affected by the disaster. Sure it has a predictable plot and narrative design but, at least here, to play it any other way would have only undermined the authenticity of the adaptation.

    Patriots Day
    Berg's go-to actor (pretty-much ever since Lone Survivor), Wahlberg, acts as our primary focal point and, although it's questionable whether his fictional character - a composite of a number of different BPD officers working on the case - even needed to be injected in amidst the far more authentic real-life players, Berg's certainly responsible for some of Wahlberg's better projects over the last few years, and the two make a solid team not wholly unlike the reliable days of Tony Scott and Denzel Washington. Certainly, without him, the film would have perhaps been even more documentary in nature - for good or bad - but his word-chewing Boston local is nevertheless an easy way into the piece to keep viewers focused.

    The supporting characters - the real heroes, as the poster celebrates - are played by an assortment of big names who all rise to their respective roles, from scene-stealers like J.K. Simmons to powerhouses like John Goodman (sporting Oliver Reed-in-Gladiator eyes), and it's nice to see even Kevin Bacon get to shine on the Big Screen for the first time in a while. Berg's female characters could still do with some work, largely relegated to the requisite wifely duties roles, but Michelle Monaghan is always reliable, and Melissa Benoist is surprisingly convincing in a role that's about as far away as you could get from her more familiar Supergirl turf.

    Another solid piece of dramatic work from the 'Berg 'brothers'

    The staging of the events is cleverly interspliced with real-life footage from the 2013 attack, further giving an authentic feel to the proceedings, and Berg's depiction of the FBI-led manhunt that ensued is a highlight in the piece, working clinically and painstakingly to track through thousands of different mobile phone videos and CCTV footage to get even a glimpse of the culprits. Even the confrontations along the way are handled with aplomb - bullets seldom hit target, as is probably far more realistic than Hollywood would make you believe - and no one person is ever a prototypical hero (unless you're J.K. Simmons, in which case you were born with an advantage). Indeed Berg excels in his ability to spin the horrific event into a positive tale of both the precision focus detective work - on the clock - and also the pulling-together of the entire Boston community, to not only support and aid the manhunt, but also rise above the horror to be stronger going forward.

    Despite the attention to detail, and to authenticity, the film can't escape its procedural framework, nor the limitations of the real events that drive it, and closure - at least in terms of standard narrative closure - has to be meted out in a very different form here. Given the Four Lions-esque stupidity arguably rightly leveled at the violent perpetrators, there's also no room here for a broader look at motivation (although, again, this is completely understandable, by all accounts), which does leave the film a little lopsided at times, and whilst Berg may have reined-in his more stifling flag-waving to let the story shine through, he unfortunately forgot to check the cliche-wagon at the door when it comes to scoring the more emotional sequences. Basically anything even remotely touching has the melodrama-strings tightened to breaking point, with his composers Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor rising to the challenge in the tense, dramatic sequences, but falling when it comes to the emotional handholding, which can border on eye-rollingly bad (given the music sounds identical to the score pieces Berg used in similar scenes from almost all of his film, all the way back to The Kingdom, it's possible it's nothing to do with the Nine Inch Nail boys, and actually all Berg's doing).

    Still, for a film which could have unraveled at the very outset by getting too wrapped up in its own title, Patriots Day manages to keep its head above the water for the most part, and remains yet another solid piece of dramatic work by the 'Berg 'brothers', paying respect to the horrific real-life events and to the strength of the people of Boston for overcoming them.

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