Patriots Day: Stirring, Emotional But Far From Perfect
On April 15, 2013, two bombs went off during the annual Boston Marathon, killing three people, injuring some 260 others and triggering a massive manhunt for the surviving perpetrator, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The story reads like a blockbuster Hollywood thriller and, three-and-a-half years on, that’s exactly what we’ve got. Peter Berg -see 2016’s surprise hot, Deepwater Horizon – has once again entrusted Mark Wahlberg with leading what was undoubtedly a tricky sequence of events to adapt to film without touching a few nerves – it was only three years ago, after all.
Surprisingly, however, Berg manages to tread carefully around the subject, delivering a very Hollywood-esque stir of a film – though it hasn’t necessarily impressed all. While many Bostonian publications have been critical of the production for ‘glamorising’ the events, from a filmic perspective, that might be a little harsh. Yes, there is a level of glamorisation, but at the same time, the film does well not to stray too far into exploitative territories – it’s suitably heartfelt, proficiently executed and, rather than being political, pays tribute to those affected.
The problem, however, is Wahlberg. Though often unfairly chastised, Wahlberg is an efficient vessel to build the kind of character he plays here – a spirited, headstrong police sergeant who aids victims on the day itself before going on to help in the manhunt. But the first problem is that Wahlberg’s character is entirely fictional; creative license is one thing, but when a film is presented as a tribute to the men and women who were involved in the incident, including law enforcement personnel, putting all your chips on a fictional police officer feels like an easy move. The second problem is the fact that Wahlberg’s characterisation of a Massachusetts native falls into several derogatory clichés – he’s headstrong, yes, but borderline obnoxious. Of course he’s spirited, but the script needed to be much more delicate in his portrayal.
Luckily, the likes of JK Simmons, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon and Michelle Monaghan provide solid, and much more subtle, support to a story that doesn’t deal with the politics of terrorism, but ends up speaking of a community’s shared tragedy and its road to recovery.
One question that should be posed more often when it comes to films based on real life events is this: would it be as affective if it was fictional? In this case, almost certainly no – there’s no real new insight and it adds nothing to the discourse surrounding it all. It’s a film that attempts to speak to the tragedy rather than to the incident, but ends up working more as a standard thriller than any real docudrama style account of the bombings.