Review: Patriots Day (2016)

Patriots Day

© Lionsgate

© Lionsgate

In today's Hollywood, we have seen a seeming abundance of films based on true-life stories. I have groaned at the constant claim that a movie is "based on real events," and I spend the rest of the film trying to decipher whether the story being presented is factual. We have become so inundated with these real-life stories taking creative and artistic liberties that it proves incredibly refreshing when we finally get one that seems to be authentic in its portrayal. 

Patriots Day presents a dramatic retelling of the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the ensuing manhunt in the days that followed. Centered somewhat around an embattled detective (Mark Wahlberg) and an FBI terrorism specialist (Kevin Bacon), the story delves into the grittiness of the chase to find the bombers before they can strike another target. 

My initial reservations with the concept of Patriots Day stemmed from the recency of the portrayed events. Any time a real-life story rushes to the big screen, it leaves itself open to claims of cashing in on recent headlines or, in this case, a tragic event. Wahlberg and the rest of the film's producers, however, seem to have done their due diligence in crafting a film that presents the story accurately while paying tribute to the victims, the first responders, and the law enforcement involved rather than falling into the trap of creating an exploitative piece. 

Patriots Day marks Peter Berg's second true tragedy tale (following Deepwater Horizon) within a calendar year, and he does his best to bring an effective thriller to the screen. Between those two films and his 2013 hit Lone Survivor, Berg may have found a niche for himself as the go-to guy for true-life, action-oriented stories. This one offers a good amount of tension throughout, doing enough to keep the audience invested as the events slowly unfold. The scenes of the bombing itself prove to be the best-executed moments of the film. Despite seeing news reports at the time, I never truly understood the gravity of the situation. The scene takes us into the very real terror of the moment and its immediate grisly aftermath. Let the feint of heart be warned: the scene does put forth some graphic imagery. It proves to be a visceral moment that left me absolutely breathless. 

Unfortunately, the rest of the film falters a bit, falling into a somewhat tense slog. While certain moments of the manhunt work, the constant bounce between the eclectic set of characters and storylines make it difficult to latch onto anything concrete. I'm not saying that the movie itself is difficult to follow, but I found it nearly impossible to relate to - or even like - any of the characters in the second and third acts. 

This all comes despite the principal cast marking a fine set of performances that almost keep us grounded within the story. In addition to the aforementioned Wahlberg and Bacon, we have a slew of big names featured - John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, and Michelle Monaghan round out the most familiar faces - yet its some of the lesser-known but just as crucial characters that manage to stand above the rest. Credit to Jimmy O. Yang and Alex Wolff who offer some of the stronger performances; I'll be keeping my eyes out for them in the future. 

The real glaring issue with Patriots Day unfortunately comes with its main star. While I believe that Mark Wahlberg has shown a wider range of emotional depth in his Peter Berg collaborations - he had an amazing breakdown moment in Deepwater Horizon, for example - he definitely proves to be a disservice to this particular film. That's not to say he doesn't give a good performance; rather, Wahlberg's real-life, pro-Boston persona leaks too heavily on-screen and makes him more of a caricature than anything else. Marky Mark has become so synonymous with the city of Boston that his constant overt affection for Beantown starts to come off as obnoxious. I'm all for hometown loyalty, but in this situation, I think Patriots Day would have been better served leaving Wahlberg only in the producer's chair. 

Despite its flaws, Patriots Day did manage to win me over with its epilogue that featured a number of interviews with the real people who had just been portrayed on-screen. These testimonials tug at the heartstrings and provide a genuine Boston flavor that none of the cast could provide. It's a nice little bow on an above-average flick, and it shows that the filmmakers certainly did their best to keep Patriots Day from becoming exploitative fare.