Fan Contributor Managing Editor Nick Nunziata reviews director Peter Berg’s Patriot Day, a concussive and fast-paced telling of the events that made the 2013 Boston Marathon a major moment in American history. Mark Wahlberg reunites with the director of Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon in a film that manages to deliver thrills, chills, and tears.
This could have been a really bad movie. A shameless one, capitalizing on an awful tragedy and manipulating the audience in a way that is not only offensive but also disrespectful to the lives that were lost. It also could have been a piece of propaganda made to rile up audiences based on their preconceptions about the set of circumstances that has allowed terrorism to become a daily threat in the lives of people around the world.
Luckily, Patriot’s Day isn’t any of those things. It’s a celebration of the courage and fast thinking that prevented potentially a lot more destruction and of a city’s resolve that is a heck of a lot more than just a convenient hashtag.
Director Peter Berg and star/producer Mark Wahlberg are on a bit of a tear when it comes to this kind of story, having bounced from Lone Survivor
to Deepwater Horizon
and now Patriot’s Day
but instead of going the expected and easy road they’ve built a complex and jarring film that balances tension, action, drama, and even some much-needed humor in a way that is only manipulative in the way that good films are. It earns the emotion it takes out of its audience and provides new insight into a situation that frankly, we all thought we knew like the back of our hand due to the expansive media coverage it was given.
Divided into three distinct segments, the film introduces us to a wide array of characters whose role in the story are unclear before setting off the moment that changed a city and then covering the manhunt that unfolded over the course of a few days. It’s not an atypical approach but Berg’s marriage of sizzle and ground level documentary style really delivers.
While the film features its share of boilerplate characters, which is unavoidable in a procedural, it goes a long way towards fleshing out the key components of the plot. The two terrorists are not portrayed as mustache twirling rhetoric spewers but rather products of their environment. One is gruff and filled with mind control but still not a cardboard cutout and the other is a kid whose slacker existence contrasts sharply with his jihadist beliefs. They certainly aren’t model citizens but they’re also a lot more shaded than one would expect. Wahlberg’s character is actually an amalgam of real people for the sake of the narrative but he’s also quite different than expectation. He’s a gruff, abrasive, and oftentimes unfairly brusque character whose emotional transformation showcases the actor’s increasingly impressive chops. Wahlberg has come a long way from underwear commercials and being the “less famous Wahlberg brother”. J.K. Simmons does what J.K. Simmons always does, effortlessly charms the pants off the audience and commands the screen whenever he’s on it. Jimmy O/ Yang, consistently one of the funniest things about Silicon Valley crushes his role as the unfortunate young man whose car is appropriated by the terrorists but man does it pay off with one heck of a moment. His big moment in the film is worth the admission price alone.
But the real star of the movie is the forensic details of the event. From the human stories of people who were transformed by that day to the amazing crime-solving and crowdsourced data that expedited the case to the little incidents that changed the temperature of the who thing, Patriot’s Day takes something that seemed wholly un-cinematic and makes it riveting.
It’s gory, loaded with F-bombs, and everyone knows how it’s going to end, but Patriot’s Day is a legitimate winner of a movie. it’s a crowd-pleaser and a tear-jerker and it rises above its manipulative concept in a way that isn’t cheap. Say what you will about Berg and Wahlberg’s motivations, but Patriot’s Day is the real deal and don’t be surprised if it becomes the year’s first hit.