Review - 'Patriot's Day'
Patriot's Day is the third film in a row by director Peter Berg that chronicles a recent tragedy and stars Mark Wahlberg in the lead. The duo have been successful at producing films that thrill but too often drift into exploitative territory when it comes to the execution of their action sequences. Patriot's Day, while it does try a little harder at bringing some humanity to the proceedings, still ends up overindulging in Hollywood-style thrills that take you out of the moment.
The film portrays the events before, during and after the Boston Marathon bombings where two Chechen terrorists detonated pressure-cooker bombs at the finish line of the race, killing three people and wounding hundreds more.
Patriot's Day is a movie that doesn't quite know what it wants to be. The film is respectful and reverent towards the events it is based upon but can't help shifting into a thrilling action/crime drama when it feels like there's a great action sequence to be mined. There were many times during Patriot's Day where I found myself beginning to enjoy an unfolding action set-piece and then realized that this really happened and I shouldn't be taking pleasure in it. Director Peter Berg has had similar issues in the past with his last two films; Deepwater Horizon and Lone Survivor. He knows how to depict these real-life characters in a sympathetic and heroic way, but then gets hung up on creating these overblown action sequences that would be more appropriate in something else. While I was entertained by Patriot's Day, I don't feel like I should have been.
If I were to separate the film from the events its based upon and judge it purely as a movie, it comes up even shorter. Patriot's Day gets by on the fact that the events on display actually happened, even if they are given a hollywood-sized adrenaline shot. I think if this were an original piece of work that was not based off of anything it would be a fairly generic action film, albeit a competently shot one. My main issue is that Peter Berg has trouble juggling the various characters in the film and I never really felt any sort of emotional attachment to any of them.
There are a large number of notable actors in Patriot's Day, and surprisingly, none of them really make that big of an impression. Mark Wahlberg is good as Sergeant Tommy Saunders, but his character is pretty much dropped about half-way through the film in favor of showing the story from the perspective of the terrorists. John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons and Michelle Monaghan are also in this film, and while all four of them do their part, I kept forgetting about their characters when they were off-screen until they showed up again. I also didn't particularly care for most of the people portraying the victims, save for a convincing performance by Jimmy O. Yang, who portrays Dun Meng, a student who is car-jacked by the terrorists.
The most effective performances are those of the terrorists themselves. Alex Wolff looks disturbingly like his real-life counterpart, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Wolff almost gets you to feel a bit for his character, who was obviously dragged into this whole thing by his older brother and led to believe that what they were doing was right. Then, on a dime, he just gets your blood boiling again with comments like: "We should have placed the bombs at waist-height". Tamerlan Tsarnaev is portrayed by Themo Melikidze, and while he doesn't look as much like the real person, he nails the heartless determination of the man who organized the whole operation.
It's in the moments that we spend with the terrorists that I felt Patriot's Day really hit home. This film's depiction of how these brothers lived and how they planned is very realistic and unnerving to watch. The movie doesn't show a pair of stereotypical villains building bombs and cackling to themselves, it portrays two youthful brothers living seemingly normal lives whilst also preparing to wreak havoc upon innocent people.
From a technical standpoint, the film is shot pretty well. Peter Berg knows how to cut an action sequence and how to build tension effectively. The shootout around the half-way point, while exploitative, is beautifully shot as Berg utilizes smoke and the red-and-blue lights of the Police cars to create a dynamic scene. The film also has a pretty good score composed by the ever-reliable Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. While this one is not as effective as their David Fincher contributions, it still adds a subtly brooding and at times beautiful soundtrack to the proceedings.
While I didn't particularly care for how the film was structured nor did I like how some of the main characters got pushed out of the frame for long stretches, Patriot's Day still manages to end on a satisfying note. The Boston Strong message is conveyed in a very meaningful way and despite the film's inclinations towards action, it still managed to be heartfelt in its final moments.