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Patriots Day Movie Review

Patriots Day Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art
Patriots Day is now available on home video. Read our review of the Blu-ray + DVD combo.

Patriots Day (2016) movie poster Patriots Day

Theatrical Release: December 21, 2016 / Running Time: 133 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Peter Berg / Writers: Peter Berg, Matt Cook (story & screenplay); Joshua Zetumer (screenplay); Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson (story)

Cast: Mark Wahlberg (Tommy Saunders), Kevin Bacon (Special Agent Richard DesLauriers), John Goodman (Commissioner Ed Davis), J.K. Simmons (Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese), Michelle Monaghan (Carol Saunders), Alex Wolff (Dzhokhar Tsarnaev), Themo Melikidze (Tamerlan Tsarnaev), Melissa Benoist (Katherine Russell), Khandi Alexander (Interrogator), James Colby (Superintendent Billy Evans), Michael Beach (Governor Deval Patrick), Jimmy O. Yang (Dun Meng), Christopher O'Shea (Patrick Downes), Rachel Brosnahan (Jessica Kensky)

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For the second time in the past four months and the third time in the past four years, actor Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg team up to tell a true story of modern day American heroism in the face of danger and tragedy. The first, 2013's Afghanistan war drama Lone Survivor, resonated with moviegoers and even picked up a couple of sound Oscar nominations.
The second, last fall's BP oil spill drama Deepwater Horizon, grossed only half as much domestically and is already considered out of the running for even technical awards. Following closely on its heels is Patriots Day, a dramatization of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing taking the same approach that Lone Survivor did, with a limited Christmas debut on the coasts before going wide two weeks later.

Patriots Day opens the night before the Marathon, as Boston police sergeant Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg) hurts his already injured knee breaking down a door to get to a suspect. Mere hours later, Tommy is at the finish line to patrol one of the nation's oldest and most popular races. Also making appearances is Boston police commissioner Ed Davis (a slimmed down and darkly-eyebrowed John Goodman). The film also gets us acquainted with individuals whose lives will be affected by what is to come. There is an attractive young married couple, a young Chinese immigrant with a new Mercedes who asks a girl out, and a young police officer who asks a different Asian girl out to a concert.

Mark Wahlberg plays fictional composite police sergeant Tommy Saunders, who patrols the Boston Marathon in "Patriots Day."

Of course, several hours into the race, those two bombs explode not far from the finish line. Saunders' wife (Michelle Monaghan) is nearby and traumatized but not seriously hurt. Others are not so fortunate. The movie focuses on the swift official response, as an FBI special agent (Kevin Bacon) arrives on scene and hesitates to declare it an act of terrorism while setting up a large control center complete with a model of the blocks comprising the scene of the crime. He and police scour through security camera footage and cell phone video to try to find their suspects. It's compelling stuff, which anyone following the initial coverage of the real incident, from the New York Post's wrong lead to the officially released photos, will remember.

From here, the film moves more to the two brothers responsible for this act: Muslim extremist Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) and the younger, relatively easygoing Americanized Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff). True crime is an alluring genre and it renders this stretch of the film arresting. Berg and company have clearly done their research and show off as much with the use of real surveillance footage of the Tsarnaev brothers blending seamlessly with the well-cast actors portraying them.

Murder and carjackings give way to police response in the nearby city of Watertown, whose mustachioed police sergeant (J.K. Simmons) has been among the characters to whom we have been introduced. There is an action climax, which Berg is more than qualified to direct, followed by a finale that leans a bit heavily on the heroism angle, with copious looks at the real people being depicted here. (Wahlberg's lead, however, is a fictional composite.)

Sergeant Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg) helps FBI special agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) and Boston police commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) use surveillance footage to locate the marathon bombers.

Patriots Day falls in line with Berg and Wahlberg's previous collaborations. It is well-made and well-intentioned. Some will see it as trying to hastily profit off of tragedy, an argument you cannot easily shoot down. But, though you can accuse it of being lurid and maybe too soon, you can't fault the movie for being manipulative or sensationalistic. Berg and his four other credited writers seem to be aiming for this what David Fincher did in Zodiac. That was a decades-old mystery, though.
This was an event that captured the attention of the nation and the world for one week not even four years ago. As a result, its specifics are probably familiar to most viewers, which easily calls into question the necessity of this film as a piece of storytelling.

The cast is uniformly good, from Wahlberg getting away with a scene of histrionics to veterans like Bacon and Simmons giving the film exactly the reliable workmanship it needs.

While most have found that movies are best enjoyed in a theater more full than empty, I wish I had seen this one back at its original pre-Thanksgiving critics-only screening that ended up being cancelled. That showing would not have been marred by audience members laughing much too hard at the occasional tension-slicing moment, talking too much about what is going on, and cheering too hard for the heroes to catch the villains. Yes, this film is mainstream entertainment intended for the masses, but no, I don't think that stadium chatter is quite the audience response that Berg and company were looking for.

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Reviewed January 11, 2017.

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