Mark Wahlberg is on a roll with the “based on a true story” tragi-drama type of movie. After Lone Survivor (2013) and Deepwater Horizon (2016), Patriots Day is the actor’s third feature with director Peter Berg inspired by real-life disasters, this time depicting the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the immediate manhunt for culprits Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
As a Boston native, Wahlberg has emphasised the importance of the film to him, and the pressure to do the city justice. As the bombings are still fresh in the public consciousness, the picture could have easily fallen into a trap of being “too soon”; however, Berg presents a touching and very human Boston, focusing on its resilience and diversity. He also goes to great pains to highlight the effect of that day on the wider community in the city.
Wahlberg plays Sergeant Tommy Saunders, an amalgamation of several real-life police officers involved in the incident. As such, our protagonist appears in more key points of the actual events than a regular singular policeman would have ever realistically done, from investigation to the film’s violent climax. This characterisation has raised ire from some of Boston’s locals, whilst non-citizens seem to be more forgiving of this point. Saunders is more of a conduit to see the events unfold and a symbol of the city’s strength, humour and a nod to everyday residents. From his point of view, we see the tensions and joint efforts of the Boston Police Department, FBI and state government, who are working against the clock to apprehend the perpetrators.
One of the more interesting portrayals in Patriots Day is of the Tsarnaev brothers. The movie’s depiction of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff) initially makes him look like a naïve stoner who speaks in Millennial slang and idolises his elder brother. Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) is portrayed as being radical, unstable and aggressive, and the driving force behind the bombings. Although stating his lack of respect for Dzhokhar, Berg has publicly expressed his fascination with how outwardly normal the younger Tsarnaev brother appeared – the film alludes to his pot smoking and shows him playing with his niece – even as he and his brother brutally and cowardly murdered four people and injured hundreds.
Patriots Day is not perfect, but it is a respectful portrayal of a tragedy and steers clear of being too exploitative. Berg ultimately delivers a poignant tribute.
Patriots Day is released nationwide on 23rd February 2017.
Watch the trailer for Patriots Day here: