Review: Patriots Day
Every generation has a few “Where were you?” moments. When I ask my grandfather where he was when he heard the news about JFK's assassination, he vividly describes coming home from the supermarket after purchasing vegetables for his wife, my mom, and her sisters. Not many events like this have happened in my lifetime, but I will never forget where I was when I learned about the Boston bombings on April 15, 2013. One thing I remember throughout all of this is a phrase that kept going through my head throughout: “This is going to make a thrilling movie one day.” While I must say that that final day of eyes being glued to the television screen were far more intense than any movie adaption could be, Peter Berg's violent and somewhat forcefully sympathetic Patriots Day is one of the most thrilling experiences of 2016.
Berg, who started his streak of Mark Wahlberg-led, based-on-a-true-story-that-happened-somewhat-recently pictures with Lone Survivor in 2013 and then continued with Deepwater Horizon, directs this straightforward but unrelenting drama that works as both a sensitive tribute to those who lost their lives, the importance of our police and first-responders, and, somewhere in there, a standard American action movie with big shootouts and intense chase sequences.
On the surface, one could view the presentation of a subject this fresh as being insincere, and during the first act, the question I had going into the film (which was, “Do we even need a movie about this? Let alone this soon?”) was still nudging under my skin. Berg's quick-cuts, reliance on gory imagery, and close-up shots of victims in agony perpetually urged me to either cry or simply look away. Altough each time I began to think about why this kind of picture may not be necessary, I immediately considered the fact that many tend to praise certain war movies based partly on how intense/gory their battle sequences are. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that perhaps gory violence isn't so much insincere as it is necessary when exploring the horrors of humanity.
But in direct, almost intentional contrast to the aforementioned point, Patriots Day is also a very life-affirming picture, showcasing how in the midst of terror and chaos, our moral compass instinctively tells us to help others. Seeing Wahlberg's Sgt. Saunders rush to help the victims and even the unharmed civilians taking action was an emotional powerhouse of a sequence, and while Berg's camera can, at times, feel a little too Michael Bay-ish, it gets the job done for the most part and there are some moments in which his direction matched with the film's performances overpowers any qualms I had with the docudrama-like camera movements that didn't always work.
The best thing I can say about this picture is that it just feels right. All issues I considered walking in were eliminated from the first act onward, the first scene being the only real rough patch. The most impressive element is how it humanizes these characters and fleshes out the men and women involved in this situation, even the ones we don't like. The screenplay presents the bombers as key characters not in the story itself, but also the drama, with a fair chunk of screen time given to them as we learn about their motivations and what their relationship was like. Alex Wolff gives a standout performance here.
As for the star power, it's not as distracting as one would fear, but it's still noticeable. Wahlberg is clearly Wahlberg but he does give a good performance here. Kevin Bacon literally does nothing however, except be the standard FBI agent the script requires him to be, but I'm sure fans of The Following would never complain about seeing Kevin Bacon play an FBI agent. And of course, this movie stars J.K. Simmons as a mustachioed police officer and I think that's all anybody needs to know about that.
With all its star power, no one will walk out of this picture talking about that aspect. It will be remembered for its powerful drama and staggering second half, which is heavily dramatic until it turns unbearably thrilling; and then, out of nowhere, comes one of the absolute best shootout scenes since...Heat, maybe? It really is that good and it was a jaw-dropping spectacle.
Patriots Day is a wakeup call that despite the divisiveness of our country right now and the turmoil that we're facing, good almost always outweighs the bad. This is especially true for our police officers, some of whom must be held accountable for their actions in our current troublesome state, but most of whom are genuinely good-hearted heroes who are constantly putting their life on the line to do their job: keep us safe. We owe our police and first responders a great debt of gratitude, and with them there to protect us, we are much safer and much more prosperous, and we should never forget the sacrifices they make every day. Patriots Day is an important picture and one that audiences should take a chance on.