They say home is where the heart is, and Ive always been proud to be from Boston, a city rich with history and resilience. But the truth is that my heart never really knew my home or the strength of its people until the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, which united a community and brought out the best in everyone first responders, medical professionals and especially local law enforcement officials.
Along with the dead and the wounded, these are the people to whom Peter Bergs harrowing fact-based thriller Patriots Day is dedicated, and they also embody its message. In the face of unspeakable tragedy, the people of Boston came together. They were Boston Strong. And that’s why Patriots Day is exactly the movie that America needs right now, in the wake of this year’s divisive election and numerous incidents of unwarranted police violence.
You already know the story. Two jihadist brothers made pressure cooker bombs filled with metallic beads and small nails, and dropped them off next to a child’s stroller on Boylston Street at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, the oldest, most revered marathon in America, and practically a local holiday.
The bombs were detonated remotely, and because they were placed on the ground, they did most of their damage to legs, ankles and feet (which Berg not-so-subtly foreshadows early on) rather than heads and chests. That was the blood-stained silver lining of this attack, which killed three people and injured at least 264 more.
In the immediate aftermath, there was chaos and confusion. Once the FBI classified the bombing as terrorism, they took over the investigation and set up a command center. Meanwhile, the bombers went home to plot their next move and act like nothing happened for several days. When their photos were finally released to the public, a city known for hating “rats” quickly began sharing information, and an epic manhunt ensued.
As the police closed in, the bombers decided to flee to New York City to kill more people, but not before killing 27-year-old MIT security officer Sean Collier and carjacking a Chinese national named Dun Meng. It was their courage that aided in the bombers’ capture following a standoff with Watertown police that ended with one brother dead and the other in handcuffs, currently awaiting death by lethal injection.
Those are the main beats of the story, and Berg’s devotion to accuracy is most impressive. But what fascinates are the devastating details of the investigation.
The way that Sgt. Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg) remembers the placement of every security camera in the vicinity. The force with which Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) screams “This is my f-ing city!” during an argument with the FBI about whether to release photos of the bombers. The salute one Boston cop gives the body of an 8-year-old boy as he’s carried away after lying in the street beneath a sheet for hours after the explosion. The Framingham-born cop who refuses to give up her rooftop position during the climactic showdown.
Details elevate Patriots Day far above a feature-length episode of the nightly news
It’s those kinds of details that matter most, and elevate Patriots Day far above a feature-length episode of the nightly news. The film thrives on the images that probably escaped most cameras.
The outstretched arms of an injured husband and wife as their stretchers are wheeled away to different hospitals. The hug that Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese (J.K. Simmons) gives his wife after trading blows with one of the bombers. The smile a young boy gives his bed-ridden father upon their reunion. And of course, the rousing speech that Red Sox slugger David “Big Papi” Ortiz delivers at Fenway Park in the days following the attack. President Obama’s speech about America’s undaunted spirit is also featured.
Berg has never really been given his due by critics, who have dismissed the action-oriented filmmaker as the thinking man’s Michael Bay. Make no mistake, Berg’s work on Patriots Day is right up there with Paul Greengrass Bloody Sunday and United 93. Both gripping and heartbreaking, this film is even better than the director’s last two collaborations with Wahlberg Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon. Maybe Im biased because Im from Boston, and maybe I threw in the word maybe to throw you off the scent, but youll have to write my editor about that one.
Berg uses plenty of real security camera footage and cell phone video shot by locals anything that was used at trial and thus, available for fair use. Like Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, he shows the real people at the end, including Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, whose cinematic counterparts serve as the face of the victims in Patriots Day.
The director also wisely enlisted The Social Network Oscar winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to compose the moody score, which is rather restrained overall, but effectively enhances the film’s intensity, as if that isnt high enough in a Peter Berg movie. Every time someone in Patriots Day says something to the effect of, “lets get these motherf-ers,” you sit there thinking the same thing.
A native Boston boy himself, Wahlberg is a strong anchor for this blue-collar ensemble, and yet as good as the A-list supporting cast is Goodman, Kevin Bacon, Simmons, Michelle Monaghan it’s the younger actors who truly impress. Keep an eye on are Jimmy O. Yang (Silicon Valley) as Dun Meng, Jake Picking (Goat) as Sean Collier, and both Alex Wolff and newcomer Themo Melikidze as the diabolical brothers.
Khandi Alexander is also quite good in her one scene as a mysterious interrogator who questions the wife (played by Supergirl herself, Melissa Benoist) of one of the bombers. The other brothers wife seemingly knew about her husbands plan, and did nothing to stop it. She has not been prosecuted and is still living among us.
One of the bombers was a major weed dealer at UMass Dartmouth. From the outside, he looked like a normal college student. And that’s the point. As one character asks in the film, “what does a prototypical Jihadist look like?”
Terrorists use fear as a weapon. They want you to be suspicious of your neighbor. Theyre out to disrupt our way of life, so when Gov. Deval Patrick (Michael Beach) makes the decision to shut down the city, they appear to have won. People are forced to live in fear, and arent allowed to leave their homes, leading to one of the films most haunting shots that of an empty Boston, which recalls the London of 28 Days Later.
Patriots Day is evidence that, while there will always be evil in this world, there will always be more good people than bad
Patriots Day is evidence that, while there will always be evil in this world, there will always be more good people than bad. Because as the dust cleared following the explosions and revealed the awaiting carnage (which Berg doesn’t shy away from), Bostons bravest citizens ran toward the blast sites.
That’s a testament to the underlying good in all of us. Hate is not innate, it is taught and learned. I’d say we mustn’t forget what happened in Boston on April 15, 2013, but remembering is not enough. To quote Big Papi, “this is our f-ing city.”
Well it’s certainly mine, and whether you live there or not, it’s yours too.
Patriots Day isn’t a movie about Boston. It’s about America. It is a movie for America, and we need it now more than ever.