Peter Berg seems to be making a trend out of adapting recent violent real-life dramatic events. What’s next, a big screen adaptation of the US election?
Patriots Day (2013) is a true story thriller/drama based on the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, written and directed by Peter Berg (Deepwater Horizon, Lone Survivor). It stars Mark Wahlberg as Tommy Saunders, a cocky Police Officer who is at ground zero when two bombs go off at the end of the Boston Marathon, and becomes involved with the consecutive man-hunt for the two bombers as they flee from the law.
Based on the relatively recent events, with the actual bombing just edging past four years ago now, there’s an argument to make that this film is a little ‘too soon’ considering most of the world remembers this event actually taking place. But putting that aside, its clear that Berg has taken the same respect and approach to the real event that can be found in Deepwater Horizon. The film stays relatively close to the real events, with only a little bit of exacerbating when details are sketchy. This makes it even more impressive that the story manages to maintain a level of weight and tension considering most of the audience is likely to know how its going to end, and even if you don’t, Patriots Day is going to ensure you do not forget.
Berg’s grounded, realism-driven directorial approach also works well for the true story. While it does get a little shaky at times when trying to mimic handheld footage, for the most part it almost feels like a mix between authentic news clips and intimate home video. Sometimes things end up unclear, but for the most part its a logical approach considering the nature of the source material. The one decision however that doesn’t make sense is the scattershot nature of the story. Berg constantly tries to focus on a slew of different subplots and stories connected to the main events while also maintaining Wahlberg as the lead character, but it never cohesively comes together. My personal interpretation is that he’s somehow trying to represent the communal element of Boston and how the event affected many different people in different ways, but implemented like this only has the impact of having too many characters to follow and care about – especially considering so many of them have minimal screen-time and little impact on the plot. In addition to this, Wahlberg isn’t even playing a real person, but instead an amalgamation of several different officers which confuses things even more. Berg clearly just couldn’t commit to one approach or the other, and it means the final product isn’t as cohesive or satisfying as it could be.
The positive side of having so many characters however is the impressively large cast the film gets to implement. Wahlberg may be at the centre as the standard everyman protagonist, but supporting him is John Goodman, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin Bacon, JK Simmons, Melissa Benoist and a whole host of others. While most of them don’t enjoy enough screen-time to make a serious impact (except JK Simmons who kinda steals the movie in one scene), they’re all playing their roles with serious respect for the real people and events, and that shines through in the gravitas and grounded approach by all of them.
Even with that one significant criticism of the film, Patriots Day might still be Peter Berg’s best movie. Its serious and respectful while never losing its engaging and fascinating qualities, and while Wahlberg is basically playing the exact character from most of his other movies, the rest of the cast shines through in their performances. Keep going like this and I’ll almost be able to forgive Berg for making Battleship. Almost.
General Audiences: Highly Recommended
Film Buffs: Recommended