Patriots Day: This Movie Will Wreck You

Patriots Day Plot Summary:

Based on the true events surrounding the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, as the entire city of Boston is shut down for the manhunt of the Tsarnaev terrorists.  Told from the point of view of the cops and victims who were affected by the horrific Patriot Day bombings.

I’ve often criticized Peter Berg as a mediocre director.  There’s nothing mediocre about this film.  Anyone is going to be emotionally wrecked by the end of this movie, but if you lived in Boston during this time, it’s on a whole other level.  Even a poorly made movie about the Boston Marathon bombings would have reached us to the emotional core, as the events were so recent.  Berg’s two hour plus roller coaster is so intricately well-crafted that it reaches a level of nervousness throughout the whole movie.  It’s not a pleasant movie going experience, but it’s that feeling that makes the film great.  Peter Berg doesn’t hold back.

Photo Credit: Ginsberg Libby

When the film begins, you’re already on edge.  As a director, Berg is quickly in the zone.  We are quietly introduced to all the major players.  Cops.  Victims.  Government Officials.  Significant others.  It’s the perfect table setter.  Not only that, but these are real characters.  Nothing is generic about these people.  Remember, this is a movie.  We have to care about the characters, and Berg gives us a reason to care.  He doesn’t just push play on the event itself.  This is why a film like The Birth of a Nation from earlier this year pales in comparison.

The biggest star in the first half-hour is the score.  I’m not sure if this movie will get Oscar nominations.  It might.  What it should absolutely get is a nomination for Best Score, composed by already Academy Award winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network).  If the job of a score is to compliment the mood, then I can’t think of a score in recent memory that does it better.  Part of the reason why you’re tense from the start is the music.  It’s almost like a thirty-minute-long note that suddenly stops when the first bomb goes off.  This is where Berg is most effective.  You know it’s coming.  It could happen at any moment.  But when it does, you still jump.  It’s unavoidable.

While I highly recommend this film, it’s not easy to watch.  I can’t emphasis that enough.  Screaming.  Chaos.  Blood.  Limbs.  Like I said, Berg holds nothing back.  It goes without saying that all the action is effective as hell, but it’s the subtleties where Berg improves drastically as a director.  Mark Wahlberg plays Sgt. Tommy Saunders, a fictional cop written for the movie, but he’s the point man in all this.  The avatar for the audience.  There’s a moment during all the chaos where Tommy walks into a restaurant.  Without spoiling it, he does something so simple and emblematic of his character.  It’s sort of funny, but an honest moment during this horrible ordeal.  That’s the kind of stuff Berg didn’t do in Lone Survivor, but he does so here.

Photo Credit: Ginsberg Libby

This is probably Wahlberg’s best performance since The Departed.  You can tell he cared a lot about this project.  Wahlberg’s character is very likable, but heavily flawed.  He also gets frustrated a lot, but those are his best moments.  There’s a great scene where he comes home after the Marathon and gets barraged by family members on what happened.  His response is understandably predictable.  He also shines in the vulnerable moments.  Even though Michelle Monaghan wasn’t given a ton to work with, she enhances Wahlberg’s performance significantly, playing Saunder’s wife.

There’s a gluttony of great supporting roles who are all pretty much based around real people.  If there was going to be a nomination for acting here, it would be John Goodman as Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis.  He doesn’t have a ton of lines, but they’re all important.  His big moment is an argument he has with FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers, played brilliantly by Kevin Bacon.  Bacon is superb at showing the weight of the world on his face.  His best scene is his first, when he gets out of the car and just stares at the finish line.  It’s gut-wrenching.  J.K. Simmons plays a key Watertown cop (Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese) who takes down one of the terrorists.  While Simmons doesn’t have a lot of screen time, his big moment in the film is awesome.  Simmons just takes control of the entire situation with one line of a dialogue and a fierce look on his face.  I love J.K. Simmons.

What I did not expect was how focused the film would be on the actual Tsarnaev brothers.  They are front and center.  This is where the film gets a little uncomfortable.  The actors who play them, Alex Wolff (Dzhokhar Tsarnaev) and Themo Melikidze (Tamerlan Tsarnaev), do a commendable job, but it’s a thankless job.  This was a ballsy move to include them as much as they did, but it does add another layer to the film.

Photo Credit: Ginsberg Libby

Aside from the bombing scene, Berg floods the film with a plethora of intense sequences.  There’s the carjacking/kidnapping of Chinese émigré Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), a nail-biting shoot out, and an uncomfortable interrogation scene.  These are all directed with the utmost care by Berg.  If I had one criticism in Berg’s direction, it would be in some of the bigger moments, in which Berg decides to use shaky cam or slow motion.  The final capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could have been handled better.

My job is to review this as a film.  I can’t speak to what is accurate or fabricated for dramatic purposes.  I also can’t imagine what it would be like to watch this movie if you were one of the victims.  That’s something I just can’t fathom.  As a movie, this is a great piece of filmmaking that will stick with you long after the credits roll.  While there is well-timed Boston humor infused at appropriate times in an effort to lighten the mood, that’s an impossible ask when you’re dealing with this subject matter.  If you go see the movie, be prepared to feel uneasy, but also be prepared for one of the year’s best.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (Really Great)

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Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow’s fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.