Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg team up yet again to make Patriots Day. The pair previously worked on Lone Survivor and this year’s Deepwater Horizon. If Berg’s filmography proves anything, it’s that he can make halfway decent films about tragic and intense real-life events. Patriots Day follows that very schema. As a director, Berg’s strong suit appears to be depicting the chaos of a tragedy. The techniques he uses in this film are nearly identical to those he used in Deepwater Horizon: shaky cam, intense sound effects, gratuitous gore. Not to say those methods aren’t effective: they’re just simple, expected, and adherent to Berg’s formulaic approach to filmmaking. A major aspect of the film that deviates from Berg’s formula is Wahlberg’s character. Instead of playing the real-life hero of the story, Wahlberg plays a fictional composite character, Tommy Saunders, whose story is the combination of that of several Boston police officers who sprung into action on the 2013 Marathon Monday. Saunders is somehow integral to every stage of the investigation, making Wahlberg seem like the hero of the story. I understand wanting to represent the Boston Police Department as a whole without crowding the narrative, but the use of Saunders makes one officer seem chiefly responsible for bringing the Tsarnaevs to justice. Finding who was responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing was undeniably a team effort executed by the Boston Police Department, the FBI, and the Watertown Police Department. Each part of this whole could’ve been better represented in the film.
A positive feature of the film is the use of real surveillance footage from the investigation to supplement the narrative about the Tsarnaevs. The two bombers were so well cast that the real footage was used seamlessly. Had I not seen the video before, I likely wouldn’t have known that it wasn’t filmed specifically for the movie. What was problematic about the Tsarnaevs as characters, though, was the sheer volume of dialogue and screen time they were given. The scenes in which they’re shown try to give the viewer a peek into the inner workings of their minds and into the relationship between these two brothers. This is tricky, however, because how much do we really know about these people? Secondhand stories and testimonies from Dzhokhar’s trial can only fuel speculation. I understand the need to flesh out the characters for the sake of making an interesting movie, but they are given a bit more of a spotlight than they should have.
The most moving part of the film is the final few minutes, which includes clips of interviews with the real members of law enforcement and the real survivors of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. These moments show the impact that this tragedy had on real individuals, as well as the City of Boston as a whole. Accuracy should be the main concern in doing a story like this justice, and although some of the sequences were surely dramatized to meet Hollywood expectations, Patriots Day is a fine film that showcases the triumph of those who survived, the bravery of those who helped them, and the resilience of the human spirit.