Patriots Day: Extraordinary acts of heroism

It’s been less than four years since two radicals planted homemade bombs near the finish line at the 2013 Boston Marathon, and already, filmmakers are racing to dramatize one of the most senseless acts of violence in our nation’s history.

The first of two films on the subject slated to come out in 2017, Peter Berg’s “Patriots Day” is a flag-waving, symbolic memorial to those who died, those who survived and especially to law enforcement officials critical in the hours and days that followed.

“Patriots Day” examines the events of April 15, 2013 from nearly every angle, beginning several hours before the race starts and carrying through the attack and subsequent investigation that led to the death of one bomber and the capture of a second.

Viewers are given intimate glimpses into the lives of a variety of law enforcement officials, every day citizens whose lives were impacted by the attack and the attackers themselves.

In a film where such a climatic event is depicted from all perspectives, inevitably shortcuts must be taken by filmmakers to condense things down to a palatable running time for audiences.

The film’s biggest and most controversial shortcut in this respect is the casting of Boston native and producer on the film Mark Wahlberg as Sergeant Tommy Saunders, a Boston police officer who just happens to be everywhere at the right time throughout the film. Saunders is shown at the finish line when the bombs go off coordinating all the rescue efforts, with the FBI recapping the bombing, in Watertown engulfed in the shootout with the marathon bombers and at Fenway Park greeting Red Sox star David Ortiz.

The problem is, Tommy Saunders isn’t a real person, rather a contrived composite of any number of law enforcement officials who answered the call to action after the attack.

Wahlberg is largely effective as Saunders, giving a rousing performance as the cop who’ll stop at nothing to protect his city, essentially the living embodiment of “Boston Strong.” But as the movie zips along sequence to sequence, Saunders’ plausibility as a character wanes and Wahlberg’s performance feels more false in turn. For a film so reliant on the authenticity to the actual events, Saunders is the one false note ringing throughout to remind audiences that they’re watching a fictional narrative and not documentary.

The film’s other major stars – from John Goodman as Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis to Kevin Bacon as FBI special agent Rick DesLauriers to J.K. Simmons as Watertown Sergeant Jeff Pugliese – feel incredibly authentic in their performances, thanks in part to their close relationship to the actual officers they portrayed all serving as technical advisers to the film.

From an acting perspective, the best moments in “Patriots Day” come in smaller, less flashy scenes.

Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff give hauntingly poignant performances as marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, while “Supergirl” star Melissa Benoist wows as the American-born wife of Tamerlan in a climatic interrogation scene late in the film. The most gripping portion of “Patriots Day” centers around Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), an immigrant who is carjacked and kidnapped by the bombers as they plan their escape to New York to set off bombs in Times Square. 

Berg does a fantastic job of always keeping the audience in the moment regardless of what is actually occurring onscreen thanks to some terrific camera work from cinematographer Tobias Schliessler and crisp pacing from editors Gabriel Fleming and Colby Parker Jr. As a result, “Patriots Day” is a largely authentic, wholly compelling docudrama worthy of a trip to the local cinema.

“Patriots Day” came out far too late in the awards process for the film to receive major Oscar consideration, though a technical award for editing would certainly not be out of the question. The film beautifully crosscuts between footage of the actors recreating the events of the marathon bombing and actual news footage as well as surveillance video from neighborhood business surrounding the attack.

It’s very easy to get caught up in the moment as events unfold throughout “Patriots Day,” which is one of the most heart pounding, nationalistic thrill rides in several years and one that leaves audiences proud to be Americans.

“Patriots Day” is a film for patriots and will make viewers leave the theater feeling “Boston Strong.” 

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