Main cast: Mark Wahlberg (Sergeant Tommy Saunders), John Goodman (Commissioner Ed Davis), JK Simmons (Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese), Vincent Curatola (Mayor Thomas Menino), Michelle Monaghan (Carol Saunders), Alex Wolff (Dzhokhar Tsarnaev), Themo Melikidze (Tamerlan Tsarnaev), Michael Beach (Governor Deval Patrick), James Colby (Superintendent William Evans), Jimmy O Yang (Dun Meng), Rachel Brosnahan (Jessica Kensky), Christopher O’Shea (Patrick Downes), Melissa Benoist (Katherine Russell), and Kevin Bacon (Special Agent Richard DesLauriers)
Director: Peter Berg
Interesting, that director Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg reunite once again for another docu-drama thingy, right after Deepwater Horizon. This time around, Patriots Day recounts the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and the pursuit of the two terrorists that did the bombing. Now, I only know of that event through what I read and saw on TV, so I don’t believe I am in any position to judge how accurate this movie is. But for the most part, if you are familiar with it, you will know how this story starts and ends.
This is a slickly produced movie, patterned in the same way as Deepwater Horizon, complete with the real people involved giving heartfelt, probably scripted feel-good speeches after the movie is wrapped up. This one also splices in real footages between the “acted” scenes, thus occasionally causing some whiplash when scenes involving Hollywood actors morph into scenes with the actual people during the “climatic” moments, such as the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The whole thing feels unnecessarily gimmicky.
Interestingly enough, Mr Wahlberg’s character Sgt Tommy Saunders and the character’s wife are fictitious, made up just for this movie. I guess Hollywood doesn’t trust that the actual people that were involved in the hunt of the two terrorists were interesting enough to carry the story? Because, heaven knows, Tommy Saunders can grate as a character – he’s aggressive, thinks that he’s above going by the book, and constantly walks the fine line between dedication and vigilante-like obsessiveness. In other words, he’s a typical blowhard dude that thinks he’s in a Chuck Norris flick, when in truth he’s just the embodiment of Hollywood’s attempt to make a true story of a horrifying bombing “more exciting” for the masses.
Just as interesting, I find, is how the movie deliberately goes out of the way to avoid addressing Islamic fundamentalism that led to the bombing. In fact, one of the key reasons given for the need to be cautious is to “avoid anti-Islam backlash”. While this is commendable, the movie opts to instead push forth the message that the bombings are some kind of “important lesson” that we should all learn, to unite and be strong, because love will always triumph over hate, blah blah blah. No, really. Tommy Saunders even break out into such a speech in an awkwardly heavy-handed manner in the movie – a speech that feels so out of character – and I can only wince at how heavy-handed and hammy the movie is delivering the feel-good messages. When the real Patrick Downes talks about how survivors of bombings all over the place should be seen as “ambassadors of peace”, the whole thing takes on a surreal Miss Universe-style of feel-good goobledygooking.
This sort of thing trivializes the experiences of the survivors, creating some kind of tyranny where the survivor must be strong and all “We are heroes, leading humanity forth to enlightenment!” so that the virtue-signalling people elsewhere will feel good about themselves. Because of this, the movie feels incomplete. It refuses to address the cause of the problem, instead pushing forth the agenda that the problem itself leads to something good, because it teaches people important things, and so, let’s all hold hands together in the cinema. What is this? A Chicken Soup for People Who Feel Sorry for Folks That Got Bombed tract?
While the people behind this movie are careful to claim that they never want to exploit the tragedy, the movie has no problems putting in very manipulative scenes, such as a police officer tearfully standing over the corpse of an eight-year old and saluting when the kid was finally carted off once investigations on the scene of crime was done. Or the couples prior to the bombing are depicted in such a saccharine, perfect light that they keep telling one another “I love you!” as if they are struck by some kind of pathological Care Bear-style Tourette’s Syndrome. Dialogues are hackneyed and hammy, delivered in a way that resemble little of actual conversations carried out by real people.
The scriptwriters seem to be aware of the schmaltz in the script, but unfortunately, they try to lessen the sugar shock by doing the tired old “someone launches into an eye-rolling speech about love, and the other person makes an awkward joke out of how corny the whole thing is” shtick here. The whole thing doesn’t work because the characters always interact like they reading aloud a speech transcript. Also, I’m not sure what to make of how the movie goes out of the way to avoid aggravating racial tensions, it has no problems using a Chinese character’s heavy accent, nerdy and materialistic characteristics, and awkward horniness around big-breasted Chinese girls to create some laughs. I have no problems with such stereotyping (in case you don’t know, I’m Chinese, so I have the right not to feel offended), but this kind of racial humor doesn’t seem to fit the tone of the rest of the movie.
Still, the movie is well put together to milk sympathies and tug at the heartstrings, and I admit that I sort of tear up a little when the survivors start giving those speeches. And that’s what Patriots Day is: a trumped-up, glorified effort at using a real life tragedy – a recent one too – to create sentimental schlock in the most clichéd, contrived way possible. You’d really need to dial down your cynicism and embrace all the contrived, corny hamfisted speeches about love beating hate if you want to enjoy this one.