Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Film Review: Patriots Day

Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable 
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

I have a hard time with movies that are docudramas about terrorism since 9/11.  That isn't to say that these movies are bad.  But they hit me in an exceedingly emotional way.  Sometimes I think my critiques of them are more visceral rather than artistic because they represent and portray the world that we all live in today.

And Patriots Day is no exception.

The movie, directed by Peter Berg, depicts the events of the Boston Marathon Bombing of 2013.  The movie is an ensemble piece taking a look at the attack from several different points of view.  The main character is Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg) a fictional Boston police officers who is the primary way most of the characters will be connected.  The rest of the cast includes Tommy's wife Carol (Michelle Monaghan), Commisioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese (JK Simmons), Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) and many others.  While Tommy provides a major through-line in the film, it is really made up of smaller vignettes of the events told from various perspectives.

While the events of the movie are only a few years old, director Peter Berg weighs the sensitivities while creating a compelling drama.  Some have criticized that the movie is too soon.  But if it has any potential flaw in this regard its that all of the real-life characters (with the exception of the bombers and accomplices) are treated with very little criticism.  It's not that the movie would be served by being a hatchet job on any particular individual, but you can almost feel the gentle treatment given to people, particularly political figures.

But with aside, Patriots Day works incredibly well as a film.  One of the challenges of doing a story based on famous news events is that you can lose a lot of the dramatic tension because we know how the story starts and ends.  But Berg never lets us feel safe.  In fact, the moment the bomb goes off, even though we know its coming, is an incredible shock on screen.

The movie is surprisingly tense.  As we follow the path of the bombers we see other innocents who get caught up in their crimes.  Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze do an excellent job as the Tsarnaev brothers.  The evil and hatred that emanate off of them is so palpable.  The movie goes out of its way to make sure that Muslims are not broadly demonized, but Berg never shows the monsters behind the attack in any kind of sympathetic light.  Rather than being a detriment to the story, this simply raises the stakes for our heroes who have to stand up to this utter evil.  I found myself emotionally invested in the story in a way that I am normally not.  My anger rises at the events on screen as I think about how evil men like these terrorists are work in the world I live in now.

The imagery is incredibly powerful.  One trooper is ordered to stand guard over the body of a young boy who was killed.  And hours after everyone else has gone, he stands at his lone post, watchful.  And when the body is taken away, he tearfully salutes the fallen child.  Berg fills his movie with other strong images of Boston, giving the city a strong sense of character.

The performances are also top notch.  Simmons, Goodman, Monaghan, and Bacon are all at the top of their game.  But the real standout is Wahlberg.  He goes through the entire gamut of emotions.  He doesn't play Tommy with too much sympathy or cynicism.  You can see the physical, psychological, and emotional toll the story takes on him.

Also, towards the end of the movie, Wahlberg gives one of the best movie speeches I've heard in years.  When reflecting on the evil in the world and what to do about it, he says, “When the devil hits you like that the only way to fight back is with love…That’s the only thing he won’t touch.”  As a Catholic, I was surprised at how beautifully and succinctly Christian that message was.

The movie does end with interviews and footage of the real-life survivors of the event.  This is an increasing trend that we see in movies like American Sniper and Hacksaw Ridge.  And while the effect is powerful, its strength is a bit diluted by going on a bit too long.  It hands just a little too much of the movie over to feeling like 60 minutes.  Berg should have taken a cue from Spielberg's Schindler's List which used the real-life people in a silent and powerful epilogue to the film.

Patriots Day is an excellent movie.  It almost makes you forget that Berg also directed the atrocious Battleship.  But this film completely gets him out of the cinematic dog house.

This movie is well worth your time.

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