Friday, January 13, 2017

A Reel Review: PATRIOTS DAY



When two Muslim brothers set off home-made bombs at the 2013 Boston Marathon, the incident, and the ensuing manhunt, shook the city to its foundation and captivated the country…and the world. When the time came to put the events on the big screen, director Peter Berg and frequent collaborator/actor/producer Mark Wahlberg were the ones to raise their hands. 2016 may or may not be too soon to put the story to film, but it takes guts to do so…and even more skill to do it right.

Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg) is a Boston police officer who is at ground zero when two Muslim brothers (Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze), set off explosives at the Boston Marathon…killing several and injuring hundreds. Saunders joins in the manhunt, which includes Police Commissioner Davis (John Goodman), FBI Special Agent DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon), and Watertown Police Chief Pugliese (JK Simmons).

PATRIOTS DAY spends its early goings laying down the groundwork with its characters; from Saunders with his job issues and time at home, to the bombing victims, to the two brothers and their lives at home. It’s a bit of an early slog, but once things start moving they do pay off. The bombing itself is where the film kicks into high gear. It happens nearly 30 minutes in, and even though we’re expecting it, it’s still a seat-jumper as the build-up towards it is so well done. From there, the film moves into a police procedural, with FBI and Boston PD combing through mountains of evidence and occasionally banging heads over jurisdiction and politics.

Realism goes a long way here, and director Peter Berg has certainly done his homework. The finest details are present, and the film often feels like we are dropped right in the middle of the manhunt and closed-door discussions. Most of the film is seen through Saunders (who is a composite of several Boston police officers), and even though the character seems to show up at nearly every significant event, sticking with him gives us something to latch onto. While the investigation and chase are compelling, Berg is also building a fine tribute to the human spirit, and most especially the city of Boston. There’s a lot of heart at work here, and there are plenty of tears to be shed in joy and sorrow.

Berg has a tremendous amount of energy going at all times. The film moves, and the necessary pauses are well-timed for us to catch our breaths. Boston and its surrounding areas are filmed on a wide scale, giving a great sense of the vast amount of space that had to be searched (needle in a haystack doesn’t even begin to cover it), and the recreations of the marathon and the bombing are stunning. Berg makes great use out of archival footage from local news stations and the surveillance cameras, giving the film a very authentic feel.

Mark Wahlberg, who has now worked with Berg on three films, is excellent throughout. He’s a Boston guy born-and-raised, so it wasn’t hard for him to seem genuine, but it’s his emotional moments which really sell the character; there’s a scene when he tells his wife (wonderfully played by Michelle Monaghan), what he saw in the aftermath of the blast which is some of the finest acting he’s ever done. JK Simmons is tremendous and gets some big moments. Kevin Bacon is always a treat, and the new slim-and-trim John Goodman is also very good. Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze are scary-good as the brothers. The oldest is portrayed as a bully and the youngest as na├»ve, and the film feels like it could have dug a little deeper into their backstories. The show is absolutely stolen by an unrecognizable Melissa Benoist (TV’s SUPERGIRL), who plays the American wife of the eldest brother. She’s a converted Muslim who is dedicated to her husband, and is chilling with just a single glance.

The final shootout and finale is one hell of a feel-good moment, and ends with one of the best money-shots anyone can ask for in such a story. The end-credits are preceded by a few testimonials from the film’s real-life counterparts…survivors and investigators…and it feels a bit tacked-on and extraneous as the message at that point is already clear. PATRIOTS DAY invokes the spirit of a certain Dr. Seuss tale in which something bad tried to steal the spirit away from a town, only to have the town unite and find its spirit even stronger. Peter Berg has crafted a tribute to Boston, its people, and it’s finest in uniform. PATRIOTS DAY stands proud.

BOTTOM LINE: See it



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