Peter Berg has always been an iffy scattered genre director – he can churn out popcorn throwaway entertainers like Battleship (2012) and The Rundown (2003), wayward routine action-ers like Hancock (2008) and The Kingdom (2007), but his last two movies Lone Survivor (2013) and Deepwater Horizon (2016) have seen him delve into fact-based stories of heroism. Through his last two films, one can easily notice Berg honing his skills and with Patriots Day he has gotten it right. The learning curve is evident in that he has learned to dial down that American #1 jingoistic histrionics and is finally able to achieve the fine balance between connecting with the audience on a deeper level and succeeding as pure adrenaline entertainment.
On April 15, 2013 Boston, Massachusetts, Police Sgt. Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg) is pulling security duty on the annual Boston Marathon when the Tsarnaev brothers strike with their homemade bombs in an act of terrorism. In the resulting chaos as the wounded are cared for, Saunders and his comrades join forces with the FBI to get to the bottom of this attack. As the investigation continues, the Tsarnaev brothers realize that the authorities are close to identifying them and attempt to flee the city to continue their fanatical mayhem. To stop them, a police manhunt is performed that would have bloody confrontations and a massive dragnet shutting down the City of Boston to make sure there is no escape from the law.
Patriots Day deconstructs the events of the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013 and the ensuing manhunt for the terrorists in a stone-cold adrenaline pumping fashion. The docudrama opens with an unrelated problematic arrest in which Saunders busts his knee and we get a quick introduction of our titular salt-of-the-earth fictional cop and we see the initial traumatic events through his eyes. We are quickly and efficiently given introductions to all the important players and the peripheral ones, including the terrorists that will feature in the story. All in all we are just given enough to show us that everyone has something to live for, nothing feels jackhammered into our brains. The opening act is one crisply edited and vividly crafted segment of economical story construction.
After the explosions, the movie wastes no time in moving into police procedural trajectory and this is when it hits heart-parked-in-your-mouth territory. There are so many scenes that are gems here – Saunders walking a reconstruction of the crime scene, an escape from a car-jacking, a spine-chilling interrogation, the gun-fight showdown at a residential street. Berg never glamourises any party and simply lays out the facts in linear form with time stamps. The movie recreates the events faithfully with the cloying melodrama wisely dialled down and the light never fails to shine down on the people of Boston, the real heroes of the tragedy.
Throughout the movie, it remains respectful to the victims and the law enforcement agencies involved and celebrates their consummated efforts in apprehending the terrorists. Berg never presses the exploitative button and that immediately makes the movie memorable. Every individual feels like real human beings with authentic sensitivities and moral stakes. He has found his niche and he is revelling in a genre that seldom offers surprises and few have done as well.
4 / 5