You know, I can basically copy and paste my review for Deepwater Horizon, change the names, and my feelings would pretty much be the exact same. Peter Berg has finally carved out his weird little niche, and it’s been working out just fine for him the last couple movies (disappointing box office for Deepwater Horizon, aside). It’s a formula now. Take a catastrophic event, work it into a genre framework, bore the audience with “character building” before the fireworks finally go off, and end on a note that celebrates the blue collar (and mostly white) working class who had to suffer the most during the central traumatic incident.
I feel like I’ve made my thoughts clear on this in my Deepwater Horizon review, but it does bear repeating. I find it supremely exploitative. And this is coming from someone who will eat up exploitation any day of the week, the sleazier, the better. The problem is when the filmmaker doesn’t seem to realize – or is actively hiding – the fact that exploiting tragedy is what he’s doing. Berg acts like he’s going for high drama, when he’s simply executing cheap thrills.
I should probably get to the actual movie, now.
Patriots Day, if it wasn’t obvious enough, is based around the Boston Marathon Bombing of 2013. It briefly builds up to it, but it largely chronicles the actual incident and the investigation to find the people responsible for it. We mainly follow Sergeant Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg), who was there during the bombing and took part in the investigation.
Whereas Lone Survivor built its story on an action film framework, and Deepwater Horizon used the disaster movie template, Berg (who co-wrote the script with Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer) treats Patriots Day as a full blown procedural. After the incident happens, which isn’t very far into the two hour and ten minute runtime, the rest of the film devotes itself to meticulously recreating the steps that the Boston Police Department, Watertown Police Department, and the FBI took in order to track down the perpetrators. However, to get to that point, you’ll have to sit through tedious introductions to side characters that are so flat and bland, you’ll feel bad as you actively check your watch; counting down to the inevitable bombing, just so you can finally see something interesting happen. And frankly, so many of these characters are so personality-free, they’re practically interchangeable with most supporting characters from the last couple Peter Berg movies (for example: Michelle Monaghan is just as big a non-entity as the role of Hero Mark Wahlberg’s Wife as Kate Hudson was in Deepwater Horizon). Don’t even get me started on the painfully try-hard, “this is how real people talk” attempts at dialogue, which – oddly enough – was better executed in Deepwater Horizon.
Another thing the film fails at is the embarrassing attempt at being a love letter to Boston, a sentiment that is by no means unfounded, but executed in a way that feels totally unearned and delivered with the grace of a baseball bat to the mouth. The only time where it feels genuine is during the start of the credits where we see the real people that the actors are playing. They talk about how despite the horror that they faced, they are brought together by a sense of community and have each others’ backs, how everyone looked out for each other and helped each other. It showed the people of Boston uniting in a way that is simply not in the actual film at all, and the attempts at trying to cram those elements in was just laughable.
Admittedly, once the investigation goes underway, it does turn into a solid thriller. The sheer scope of the search, and the number of moving parts involved, is fascinating. You get a peek inside the complex bureaucracy that comes into play when something bad happens on that scale. Yeah, there is no depth to it, but it is reasonably compelling. Seeing people who are good at their jobs trying to overcome a new challenge makes for pretty damn good cinema. And there is a legit great shootout just past the halfway point, and it’s easily one of the best action sequences I’ve seen all year, so the film at least has that going for it. And on top of that, the performances are all around solid. The cast in this film is rather terrific, with the likes of Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Monaghan, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, JK Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Alex Wolff, among many, many others.
I saw another film recently, a documentary, actually. Although, it really strides the line between documentary and docu-drama. It’s called Tower, and in many ways, it’s the kind of film that Peter Berg has been trying to make the last several years. It presents a moment by moment breakdown of the University of Texas shooting in 1966, giving multiple first person accounts in that sort of intimate and relatable way that Berg has been attempting. And it does a far better job than Berg because it is able to dramatize those first person accounts in a way that is empathetic and lends itself to a wholly cinematic experience, while also having something to say about that specific point in time and what it meant. It’s not given a release yet, but you can check their website for any screenings near you.
I have huge problems with Peter Berg’s approach to these true-to-life projects that he’s been taking on, but at the end of the day, they’re never bad enough to be horrible. He has a solid eye, knows how to craft tension, and he’s good with his actors. Patriots Day is watchable, and for the most part a serviceable procedural film. Though I will quickly mention that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross score was disappointing and generic as all hell, and it was literally the one thing I was looking forward to. I just wished Berg was willing to explore past the basic elements and actually have something to say about the events happening onscreen. There is no attention given to some of the morally grey choices made during the investigation, no mention of Ibragim Todashev or Sunil Tripathi, and there is no attempt to explore the motives of the bombers beyond vague Islamic rhetoric (which, considering the current climate for Muslims in America, and that the bombers are the only Muslims in the entire film, this is downright irresponsible). What else can I even say at this point? It’s Berg being Berg. 50/100