Joyce Glasser reviews Patriot’s Day (February 23, 2017)
Co-writer/Director Peter Berg has enjoyed a mutually-beneficial relationship with Mark Wahlberg, who has taken to co-producing the films that, increasingly, lionize the actor in heroic roles. After the commendable Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, however, Wahlberg might have gone too far in inserting himself in the heart of Patriot’s Day. More than Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, both raised in the Boston area, Wahlberg is not only identified with Boston but has contributed more than any living actor to its coffers from location shooting. Here, the location shooting lends much to the authenticity of the gripping pursuit and shoot-out scenes. But Wahlberg’s contribution to Patriot’s Day as an actor is the film’s weakest link.
Berg opts for a well-used and, in this case, manipulative and tedious long opening sequence to set up the key characters that will be involved in the horrific bombing that we all know is hours away when the characters wake on April 15, 2013. This includes a young married couple (portrayed with misleading movie-star looks) who will both be seriously injured with life changing injuries; a father who will lose his son and another who will be injured, and believes he has lost his son. The young couple who were spectators at the finish line, represent the 14 other people who lost limbs.
Everything is building toward the bombings that take place at 2:49pm near the finish line that killed three people and injured dozens. The elite runners have long gone home but there are still crowds and a heavy police presence.
During this build-up sequence, we meet the various players, including Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman); the hero Watertown Police Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese (JK Simmons); Mayor of Boston Thomas Menino (Vincent Curatola); Governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick (Michael Beach); Boston’s Police Superintendent William Evans (James Colby); the FBI’s Special Agent in Boston Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) and so many others that your head begins to spin. The good news is that there is no quiz afterwards, although matching the names to the faces throughout the film is quite a feat.
The one name and face there is no problem matching is the only fictitious character in the film, Mark Wahlberg, as Boston Police Department Sergeant Tommy Saunders. A hybrid character based on several different officers, Wahlberg can justify his role in the film as a tribute not only to those who died and were injured, but to those who risked their lives in pursuit of Chechen-American Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff) and the late Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Therno Melikidze). Saunders serves no real purpose in the film other than to assist FBI Agent DesLauriers who relies on the Sergeant’s close knowledge of Beacon and Boylston Streets to identify suspects on CCTV cameras. The filmmakers even devote time to Saunders’ loving wife (Michelle Monaghan) who happens to be a registered nurse.
Where the film comes into its own and begins to resemble the nail-biting Deepwater Horizon in terms of an immersive nightmare experience is in the gripping re-enactment scenes. In the first, the Tsarnaev brothers shoot Sean Collier (Jake Picking) a police officer looking forward to a date with an MIT student.
In the second, arguably the highlight of the film, the brothers highjack the car of Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), an innocent young man in the wrong place at the wrong time if ever there was one. Meng, portrayed as a shy nerd who frequently texts home to his anxious parents, comes across as one of the real heroes of the film.
When Meng pulls over on the night of April 18 to send a text, the brothers enter his car and point a gun to his head. They identify themselves without masks, rendering the trembling Meng’s desperate assurances that he will say nothing to the police highly unlikely. The veracity behind the portrayal is confirmed by the real Meng’s cameo appearance in the shop in which he sought refuge and spoke to the police.
Just as authentically staged are the two action shoot-out sequences where the filmmakers re-enact the gun fight that took place on the streets of Watertown in the early hours of 19 April. An officer recognises Meng’s identification of the Honda Civic and stolen SUV and a tumultuous shoot out takes place during which Dzhokhar accidentally runs over his brother.
Later that morning, Dzhokhar is found bleeding in a covered boat in the rear garden of a Watertown resident. Here we get a bit of the very real jurisdiction-jostling that went on throughout the five-day operation, as FBI marksmen replace the Boston Police. Earlier, FBI Agent Deslauriers is cautious about releasing CCTV images of the suspects for fear of a backlash if they do not have the right men. The Boston Police Commissioner, Ed Davis, is adamant that the photos should be released immediately as the Boston public will help them find their needles in the Haystack of greater Boston. He fears that if they do not alert the public to the probable suspects, they will have more blood on their hands as the culprits are at large.
With such dramatically depicted manhunt scenes, it’s a shame we are subjected to all the scenes in which Tommy Saunders climbs into ambulances, visits hospital beds, is comforted by his wife and even shows up at a shoot-out. The long set up at the beginning is echoed by a long, tear-jerking sequence in which families are reunited. We even get to witness the admirable young married couple’s defiant return to life and watch the husband finish last year’s marathon with a prosthetic leg.
You can watch the film trailer here: