Patriots Day

Patriots Day is a heartfelt tribute to the real life heroes of the Boston terror attacks.

Maybe people didn’t take director Peter Berg too seriously when he made The Kingdom, a 2007 action-thriller about an Al-Qaeda attack on American expats in Riyadh. Berg’s follow-up was 2013’s Lone Survivor, a dramatized account of Navy SEALs ambushed by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. Patriots Day marks the director’s third film on anti-terrorism, and while the film is a raw and gruesome retelling of a tragic event, it is also a humble and heartfelt tribute to the real-life heroes portrayed in this film.

Widely known for the annually held oldest marathon in the world, the city of Boston took a devastating hit on Patriots’ Day, 15th April 2013, following coordinated attacks by home grown terrorists. Co-written by Berg, the narrative is a time-stamped account starting from the early hours of that fateful day. We see loved ones saying their goodbyes like any other day; some are runners getting ready for the marathon, while others are onlookers at the now-iconic Boylston Street. While this is happening, we are also shown the Tsarnaev brothers who would perpetrate the attacks. Revealing their identities quite early in the film is Berg’s plot device to induce a foreboding sense of what is about to happen. As such, scarier than seeing them pack pressure-cooker bombs into their backpacks is the vague explanation behind the attack. We are not entirely sure if the motive is a hate crime or Jihadi influenced. Instead, Berg’s focus is on the bloody and horrific aftermath of the explosions.

What follows is a manhunt for the brothers even as law enforcement teams are put through the arduous task of examining tons of CCTV footage. These include Mark Wahlberg and J.K. Simmons as police officers, John Goodman as the police commissioner and Kevin Bacon representing the FBI. Though Wahlberg anchors scenes of chaos and is practically everywhere in the film, his Officer Tommy Saunders is the only character who isn’t based on a real person during the marathon bombings. So why does Wahlberg play a fictional character when the film is based on an actual event? Aside from his third collaboration with the director, Wahlberg’s Saunders represents a dramatized combination of the law enforcement and Boston public who responded in unity to smoke out the terrorists. The strategic placement of Boston’s resilience to terror is also evident in the missing apostrophe in the title, thus making everyone involved a patriot, much like how Saunders is the everyman of Boston city.

In retrospect, anyone following the news would be aware that this turned out to be the worst attack on US soil after 9/11. But unlike the hoopla incited in The Kingdom, Berg’s nuance in this film is a balanced yet vigorous retelling of a dark episode for the people of Boston. It isn’t as thrilling or packed with urgency as Lone Survivor and there are also tonal shifts when a serious moment can turn unexpectedly funny. But pieced together with actual footage and images from the media and the public, Patriots Day feels more like a straightforward docudrama than mere entertainment for the masses. The solemn epilogue more than drives that message home; and along with it an emotional wallop on how tragedy can bring out the best in a community.

Rating: ★★★½☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.