An early scene in Patriots Day features people singing country music in thick Boston accents. Sadly, this was not the most unpleasant moment of the film.
The movie tells the story of the 2013 Boston Marathon, in which brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev each planted and set off a homemade bomb near the finish line, killing three people and injuring many more. Mark Wahlberg plays hot-headed and indiscreet Boston police sergeant Tommy Saunders, who’s been given an unfavorable assignment at the race by his commissioner (John Goodman) as payback for an earlier infraction. But when things go down, he keeps his wits about him in the early moments of confusion, and then pours himself into the investigation, even after it’s taken over by the FBI (whose lead agent is played by Kevin Bacon).
There’s a good movie in Patriots Day, but it’s unfortunately buried in one that’s not so great. The action scenes are where the film really shines: the bombing itself, its immediate aftermath, the initial part of the investigation, and the confrontations that occur when the suspects find themselves cornered. But there are also parts where it really drags. The movie spends way too much time setting things up and getting us way too familiar with characters who aren’t all that essential to the story, and then it keeps dragging us away from the investigation to check in on them. In the heat of the final showdown, the film grinds to a halt for a few minutes so that Wahlberg’s character can show us that he’s sensitive and has feelings, despite already giving us one of those scenes earlier with his wife (played by Michelle Monaghan).
Long stretches pass without any updates on the investigation, and I often found it difficult to tell how much time had passed between events portrayed. For example, the first of the aforementioned “Sergeant Saunders is a sensitive guy” scenes features him going home to his wife. It was probably meant to be at the end of a long day, many hours after the bombing, but it’s easy to mistake that for just a few minutes after the investigation has gotten up and running. Further, while it’s inevitable that a film like this will have the “look at these pictures from the real-life event” moments at the end, this one takes it to new levels of excruciation and pandering with several minutes of interviews and reenactments. And this time it doesn’t even do the courtesy of running them over the end credits when it’s okay to leave because the movie is technically over.
Another thing that I found particularly frustrating was the repeated portrayal of the authorities doing despicable things with an “ends justify the means” attitude. A woman is interrogated while being repeatedly refused due process and legal counsel. Miranda rights are suspended. Officers exceed their jurisdictions. The people of Boston and the neighboring communities are essentially held hostage. Even if we assume that the film is merely depicting what actually happened, it certainly doesn’t have to glorify it to the extent that it does.
My biggest aggravation with the film is that its problems are so obvious and so fixable. It’s ultimately a failure of editing. All of the sins committed by director Peter Berg could have been swept under the rug in the cutting room, but this movie insists on accentuating the mundane and worshipping the contemptible. I can only hope that David Gordon Green’s Stronger (due out later this year and dealing with the same topic) does it better.