How soon is too soon? That’s the question that will be continually swirling around your head as you watch Patriots Day, the latest ‘based on real events’ film from director Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg.
Patriots Day casts Marky Mark as a fictitious average Joe named Tommy Saunders, a disgraced cop who rises to the occasion when tragedy strikes during the 2013 Boston Marathon in the form of two targeted bombings. The film then follows the events as they unfolded in real-life, depicting the citywide manhunt and media storm surrounding the attack through a sprawling cast of supporting players and character actors.
Patriots Day is the kind of movie where every character swigs Budweiser, plays Call of Duty and barracks for the Red Sox; each scene is coated with the same thick, sticky layer of saccharine Americana that we’ve come to expect from the likes of Berg and his even more unrestrained peer Michael Bay.
If you can stomach lashings of jingoism, Patriots Day might be your cuppa joe; but given the events of the last few weeks, you’d be forgiven for feeling like the unsubtle semiotics and patriotic paraphernalia is a little too much to handle right now.
Granted, there is a really touching epilogue that attempts to recalibrate the film as a more sensitive docudrama, complete with talking heads from survivors and witnesses, which sends the film out on a high. The message of joining arms and running into danger to help others is really sweet too, but it feels very conflicted with the chest-thumping, flag-waving film that Berg also feels compelled to tell.
If this wasn’t already evident, I’m very torn on what to think of Patriots Day. On the one hand, it’s a heartfelt tribute to the victims and the city of Boston as a whole. Berg, Wahlberg and all involved seem eager to ‘get it right’, as so to speak. The filmmaking, editing, cinematography all range from good to genuinely great; the bombing itself is a visceral scene that plants you in the moment and shakes you to the core. We see it through the eyes of those who were there, making the film a surreal, emotional and sometimes haunting experience.
On the other hand, it’s a fantasy yarn that turns actual, recent tragedy and suffering into glossy, misty-eyed myths. It’s the kind of film that I can imagine Donald Trump sitting down to watch right before signing another round of executive orders banning anyone vaguely brown from setting foot in ‘the real America’. Maybe that’s unfair; maybe I’m letting politics get in the way of something that is purely for entertainment value.
Except it’s not just entertainment, is it? The film has a lot to say about immigration, interrogation and radicalisation. Patriots Day is (at times) emblematic of everything that is wrong in American political discourse right now and maybe that’s just poor timing, but it still counts against it in my book.
At the end of the day, nothing can take away from the fact that Wahlberg has now put in two genuinely great performances in the last six months, both in films that are often stirring and striving to be uplifting. Unburdened by politics, Deepwater Horizon definitely did it better – Patriots Day is a bit more complicated, as evidenced by this rather wordy review.
The rest of the cast – JK Simmons, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon and Michelle Monaghan – do what they can with what their given while Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor serve up another memorable score. I just wish I could get on-board with Berg’s messaging 100% of the time – and that’s what drags the movie down in part.
The Verdict: 6/10
Sorry Patriots Day; I know your heart is in the right place, but I think we’re all a little burned out on hearing about great America is right now.
Patriots Day is in cinemas across Australia now