April 2103. A spirited day of marathon racing in the streets of Boston is shattered when two bombs go off in quick succession.
Peter Berg’s film doesn’t spend much time covering the race or the actual incident that left three dead and many injured. He loses some time in building up Sergeant Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg) but once the action shifts to the bombings Berg deftly creates the suspense. He captures the breathless, meticulous and expedient search and investigation that lead to the capture of the perpetrators.
A drama-thriller, Patriots Day is told from several points of view – the terrorists, the police, the FBI, the victims and the Boston officials, who had to make quick decisions and restore the confidence of its citizens. This could easily have been a dull, jingoistic docudrama. But Berg has a controlled handle on the material (co-written by Matt Cook, Joshua Zetumer and Berg). Using actual footage, re-enactments and other cinematic tools, Patriots Day succeeds in balancing an emotional story with the methodology used by the crisis command centre.
Although the cast matters little, is a Boston movie complete without Wahlberg? Joining him are John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J. K. Simmons and Michelle Monaghan. There are also fabulously impactful supporting performances by, among others, Jimmy O. Yang as a Chinese immigrant who is kidnapped when his car is jacked by the fleeing terrorists. Melissa Benoist as Katherine, wife of one of the terrorists, has one of the film’s most crackling scenes opposite her interrogator (played with razor-sharpness by Khandi Alexander). Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff play the brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar. After five days of tense drama, 19 year old Dzhokhar was captured alive.
The facts are known. The movie does not focus on the motivations of the bombers, chest-thumping patriotism or sentimentality. It celebrates the heroism of the first responders, law enforcement agencies and the spirit of the citizens, which is encapsulated by the unifying catchphrase ‘Boston Strong’. Patriots Day is a surprisingly steady retelling of a tragic event.