Thursday, 2 February 2017

Patriots Day: Film Review

Patriots Day: Film Review


Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Monaghan, JK Simmonds, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon
Director: Peter Berg

Teaming up for the third time proves to be a great deal of charm for director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg.

After the gung-ho jingoism of Lone Survivor and the major  OSH incident at Deepwater Horizon, this duo's tapped into a rich vein of blue collar Middle America that's worth continuing to mine.
Patriots Day, starring Mark Wahlberg
Patriots Day, starring Mark Wahlberg

This time around, it's back to April 15 2013 and the Boston Marathon that they head for a largely successful drama that recreates events both pre and post the bombing that shocked the world.

Proving once again adept at pulling together the minutiae of life and the everyday characters (a newly married young couple, a cop who's been injured and wants fully back on the job, the Chinese immigrant making good on life in the USA et al) to build momentum going into the event, Berg brilliantly sets the scene for what's about to unfurl with a controlled eye and a sense of impending terror.

As he spins a wide web of people caught up in what's about to happen, he refines the thread to a single line to follow Mark Wahlberg's lumpy Boston cop Tommy Saunders, a composite of many different characters of the day. Confined to the finish line and desperate to get back properly to the job, Saunders finds his world thrown into disarray when the bombs planted by the Tsarnaev brothers explode.

When the FBI moves in, battle lines are drawn between the local PD, the powers that be wanting to capture the criminals and the confusion and chaos that unfolds.
Patriots Day, starring Mark Wahlberg

As previously mentioned, Patriots Day's strength comes from Berg's connection of the disparate strands and the docudrama style in which it plays out. Focussing more on the manhunt after the explosion (which comes 30 minutes into the film and shocks with its ordinariness), this restrained film spools with a suspense that's at times claustrophobic in its ordinariness. Shaky-cam footage of the scene, ground level cameras and real-life footage blend perfectly together to capture the horrific aftermath of the event and the bravura of the spirit of camaraderie that went on display.

Wahlberg excellently pulls together the everyman role once again, even if Tommy's clashes with the FBI seem a little orchestrated as the paean to policing and community plays out. But it's an unshowy performance from Wahlberg, although his composite character does somehow have the knack of showing up at all the key moments in the 100 plus hours after the event (something which possibly should have been jettisoned to inject a degree of more realism into the already volatile and gripping proceedings).

It's perhaps fair to say that some of the other characters within don't feel fully fleshed out and despite Berg's perhaps best intentions the Tsarnaev brothers never feel anything less than one dimensional from their watching bomb-making videos to their behaviour post bombing.

However, Patriots Day comes unstuck from its earnest intentions and solid presentation of timelines with a horrendously over-milked post-event sequence that interviews the victims of the event. It's almost as if the propaganda machine needs to pump to really galvanise the anger and showcase the courage on show.
Patriots Day, starring Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman and Kevin Bacon

With no disrespect to those caught up in the horrific events of April 2013, it's a wild directorial misstep for both Berg and the film (and other films are adopting this approach more readily, a kind of Hollywood coda to ladle on the true story syrup) that up until the end had been extraordinary in its showing of ordinariness in the face of overwhelming odds. This is fast becoming Hollywood's go-to denouement and it's not welcome or needed in the true story stakes - the film should be enough to satiate the story-telling and this should be confined to a DVD extra at best.

All things being even, Patriots Day remains a strongly and unexpectedly compelling watch despite this ending; from aerial shots showing the chaos and pandemonium post-event to the eerie calm of a city in lock-down, Berg's crafted an intriguing tale that borders on some jingoism and self-aggrandisement in the face of adversity.

But then, for a film titled Patriots Day and focussing on ordinary Americans, civic healing and the manhunt as the worst terrorist event played out post 9/11, what would you expect?

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