Director: Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Monaghan, J.K. Simmons, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon
The story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists responsible. (Source: IMDb)
A film based on a true event, particularly one which is in very recent memory, will always intrigue me, and in the case of Patriots Day, it is one which I feel I have an extra personal attachment to. I’m a huge fan of the sports teams of Boston, and although the events of the Boston Marathon bombing pre-dated my first trip there by 8 months, I remember watching the events of April 15th 2013 and feeling a great sadness for this beautiful, strong city. I saw the story unfolding via social media as I have a lot of friends in the city as well, and despite being over 3000 miles away, my heart broke for Boston.
If anyone is to be trusted with this story, then it is the seemingly unstoppable pairing of director Peter Berg, and star Mark Wahlberg. Now in their third film together, there seems to be no better duo when it comes to bringing an action-heavy true story film to the big screen, and Patriots Day may well be their best one yet. After Lone Survivor (2013) and Deepwater Horizon (2016), Berg and Wahlberg appear to be going from strength to strength, and this film has every reason to get you extra excited for whatever film they’re going to be working on next!
I’m particularly in awe of any director who is able to effortlessly make a true story, particularly one so recent, into something so dramatic and tense. Patriots Day has drama and tension in abundance, and whilst pretty much everyone going into see this will know exactly how it ends, it doesn’t stop the climax from being completely thrilling and unbelievably tense!
Berg perfectly orchestrates the big action set pieces, from the bombing itself which is chaotic and frantic, to the poised and precise shoot-out between the bomber and the police in neighbouring Watertown. Michael Bay should be forced to watch the Berg/Wahlberg trilogy back to back, Clockwork Orange style, until he realises that this is how you make an action film. Perfectly marrying explosive and powerful action with real moments of human drama and emotion is what Berg does best, and he is proving to be quite the forerunner when it comes to directing action movies.
Perhaps even more so than Deepwater Horizon, which in places felt like a series of explosions with a little bit of plot in the middle (which worked excellently, don’t get me wrong!), Patriots Day has a little more time to breathe, and there is just as much dramatic tension in the manhunt investigation as there is in the bigger action scenes.
The narrative structure of Patriots Day is really interesting as well; we’re introduced to a series of characters in the beginning, some of whom their involvement in the bombing is almost immediate, and some who we see at frequent intervals, but whose part to play occurs a bit later on. It is a risky move as it is sometime difficult to care about lots of different characters at once, but enough time is spent with each so that their role in the events is always impactful and perfectly executed.
Performance wise there’s a lot of really strong performances here, and whilst I might end up saying this about every Berg/Wahlberg film, this is in my opinion Mark Wahlberg’s best performance since The Departed. As a native Bostonian, he obviously has great personal links to this story and to this city, and that is key to making this character work. Other standouts include J.K. Simmons who is wonderful in everything he is in, and John Goodman, who isn’t in it as much, but who commands the screen every time he is seen.
It is always strange to consider this as the only criticism of a film, but it is so tense and so powerful on its first watch, that there is a risk that the second watch wouldn’t be as satisfying. Even though everyone knows how it pans out, seeing it executed for the first time is still thrilling, however there is the danger than when you both know the story, and know how it’ll appear on film, that it won’t hold up to a second watch. I could be wrong though, I sometimes am!
I saw this movie and you should too. I really loved this movie! Berg has a wonderful ability of making a visceral and tense film, but one which is also so undeniably human. It delivers real emotion and real drama without every veering away from the incredibly human side of the story and this has to be commended. It is a fitting and beautiful tribute to those who lost their lives, and those who tirelessly and heroically worked to bring the perpetrators to justice. The closing epilogue is a wonderful tribute, using real footage and interviews to ground the incredible story back in reality. Boston Strong, indeed.