Movie Review: Patriots Day (2016)

“True heroes.”

1 Stars
Patriots Day (2016)

Patriots Day (2016)


Director: Peter Berg

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Monaghan, J.K. Simmons

Synopsis: A Boston cop hunts down the 2013 Boston marathon bombers.

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Can it really be that Hollywood is incapable of presenting the events surrounding the 2013 Boston marathon bombing and subsequent hunt for the perpetrators without imposing upon us a wholly fictional ‘hero’ like Tommy Saunders?   Is there really not enough drama to be found in the true stories of those who were the bombing’s victims and those it’s heroes?   You don’t have to research Saunders to know that he’s the creation of some guy sitting at a laptop; you can tell from his superficial domestic issues and drinking problem, both of which are shunted to one side like discarded wrapping paper once the bomb goes off.   Real people, the true victims of the bombs, are given even flimsier back stories than Saunders and precious few minutes of screen time, raising the suspicion that they were included only as trailer fodder to fool an unsuspecting public into believing Patriots Day would be a human interest story rather than an empty crowd-pleaser about some stereotypical Alpha Male.

Muscling aside real-life figures like Commissioner Ed Davis (John ‘Eyebrows’ Goodman – Flight, 10 Cloverfield Lane) and Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon – Elephant White, The Darkness), Sergeant Saunders (Mark Wahlberg – 2 Guns, Deepwater Horizon) vaguely struggles to make sense of all the suffering as he leads – sorry, helps with – the hunt for the bombers.   Apparently, no other cop in Boston knows the streets around the bomb site as Tommy Saunders.   That’s why he has to pull his toe from the bath into which he was about to climb and hotfoot it back to the hastily constructed control centre so that surveillance analysts can test his encyclopedic knowledge in order to track the suspected bomber’s movements on surveillance footage.   Now, thanks to Saunders, they know what the bombers look like, but have no clue who they are, and DesLauriers is reluctant to release the images to what he suspects will be a vengeful public.   It’s only when Saunders (who else?) answers an emergency call from a Chinese student (Jimmy O. Yang) who was carjacked by two young Middle Eastern men claiming to be the bombers that the net finally starts to close in on the bombers.

The two men in question are the Tsarnaev brothers, Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) and Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff), and, had Saunders’ role been reduced so that more time could be spent on them, Patriots Day would have been a much better movie.   The brothers share a thorny relationship: Tamerlan is irritated by his younger brother’s immaturity and lack of true commitment while Dzhokhar is resentful of his older brother’s bullying.   Tamerlan has a wife (Melissa Benoist – Danny Collins), a white convert to Islam who has no trouble reconciling her devotion to the cause of killing her countrymen with her duties as a mother to her young daughter.  This is where the story of the Boston Marathon bombing lies, with these three willful outcasts.   We know ordinary people do extraordinary things when faced with unthinkable trauma and tragedy.   Many films have shown us.   But in Hollywood movies the perpetrators of these tragedies are invariably shallow stereotypes who are defined solely by their fanaticism.   How did they become that way?   What kind of people were they before their minds were poisoned?   Berg doesn’t care about that.   He doesn’t seem to realise that to defeat your enemy you have to understand them.   He’s not interested.  To him, the violent result and its consequences are far more attractive – and profitable, of course – than the process of indoctrination.

So we have Mark Wahlberg racing around Boston with a serious expression on his face, and, right on cue, he has the requisite momentary tearful breakdown.   Fortunately, Michele Monaghan (Due Date, Source Code) is there to soothe his angst and strengthen his resolve.   Monaghan seems to have spent her entire career as a devoted wife or girlfriend, so she’s very good at it, but Wahlberg brings as much feeling to his big emotional scene as you or I would if we spilt coffee in our lap.

Patriots Day is lifted a notch or two by the tense carjacking of the Chinese student, and a showdown between Boston’s finest and the brothers is both spectacular and well-staged.   But at 133 minutes, Patriots Day is a good fifteen minutes too long and, perhaps most damning of all, is far too forgettable.

(Reviewed 18th January 2017)





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