Film Review: Patriots Day

by Sam Robinson

Rated M. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman. Directed by Peter Berg.

When I first heard that Hollywood was making a film about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, I was quite surprised. It feels like just yesterday that this horrific event happened, where lives were lost and many were seriously injured at the finish line of Boston’s famous race, held on Patriots Day.

Even to turn around a film in less than four years, and to do so with respect to those involved and their families, seems like a very hard thing to do. But, director Peter Berg (Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon) has managed to do so with Patriots Day, a film that doesn’t sensationalise the events of the day nor the terrorist manhunt, but sensitively chases the truth and makes you ache for the wounded and cry out for justice.

If you’re unfamiliar with the true events, Patriots Day follows them pretty closely. By featuring a fictional lead – Boston Police Department Sergeant Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg), Berg uses Saunders to interact with events of the day – with actors playing the real people involved on the day, including convicted bombers – the Tsarnaev brothers. The script gives us a blow-by-blow account of the day of the race, introducing us to various characters before intertwining them later as the fascinating manhunt gets underway. Berg uses real CCTV footage captured by police to add frightening and at times distressing realism to the story, as well as real news broadcasts from the time. Avoiding a tacky reenactment of events or delving into blockbuster action flick territory, Berg manages to bring serious emotive drama and even humour into the mix – especially when capturing the spirit of the Boston Police and its ‘Boston strong’ mantra.

Patriots Day is a cleverly constructed film, and has been written through careful investigation and research of the events of April 15, 2013, and those affected by it. This is proven through a coda at the film’s conclusion – a series of interviews with the real people who lost limbs from the blast and have rebuilding their lives since, many with the ‘Boston strong’ spirit.

Wahlberg plays a Police Sergeant who exemplifies the hope in Boston’s darkest day. He gets a moment to make a ‘hero speech’ in an interaction with a colleague, and is asked if a tragedy like this could ever be preventable. Saunders asserts that love is ‘the only thing that the Devil can’t touch.’

Love is what bonded the city of Boston after a terrible tragedy, and although Saunders here is labelling the terrorists ‘the Devil’, it’s a statement that should make us think deeply. The love of God is what brings us from a spiritual death to new life in Christ. And we know this is possible because the Devil himself couldn’t stop Jesus from going to the cross, where death was defeated once and for all. This gives us hope of a new life where there is no tragedy, no suffering and no pain. Love wins.

The Verdict: Patriots Day brings to the big screen one of Boston’s darkest days, but does so with care, sensitivity and respect. 4/5

Patriots Day releases in Australian cinemas Thursday, 2nd February. It is already screening in the USA.

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