REVIEW: Despite A Poor Main Character, ‘Patriots Day’ Remains A Compelling Cinematic Look At A Horrific Moment

Director Peter Berg takes audiences behind the scenes of the Boston Marathon bombing from multiple viewpoints in “Patriots Day.”

While the picture does explore many of the people who were at the bombing and its immediate aftermath, such as Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), the film largely takes place through the eyes of Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg).

Saunders, who’s a fictional character made to represent Boston police officers, is a sergeant with the department and much of his story revolves around tracking down the two terrorists responsible.

Unfortunately for “Patriots Day,” Saunders is actually the picture’s biggest flaw. While admirable to want to pay respect to the Boston Police Department by having a heroic officer, well portrayed by Wahlberg, the way he’s inserted from beginning to end doesn’t help.

On top of having a rather generic background, the film places Saunders at every major event in the Boston Bombing timeline. He’s there at the finish line, he’s there when the FBI shows up, he responded to the carjacking, he was at the shootout in the suburb and the boat where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was discovered.

This aspect simply seemed unrealistic and subsequently took me out of the movie at some of its most dramatic sequences. It’s a shame, too, since the tales of the real life figures was compelling enough. Sequences showing FBI Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) and Commissioner Davis argue over the next step is generally compelling stuff.

Another issue that “Patriots Day” deals with is one that many of these ‘docudramas’ encounter, which is the film becoming somewhat of a ‘highlight reel’ of the events that happened. As a result, there’s not much of an opportunity to deeply explore the implications of what happened.

With all that said, the stuff that does work in “Patriots Day” works extremely well. The moment of the bombing and the sequences of the police trying to track the terrorists down were intense and can put an audience on the edge of their seat. This was especially true when security cam footage was spliced in, helping to put the viewer in that situation.

The drama extends to the investigation itself, too. For example, a part where Bacon’s character is ordering the crime scene to be recreated as well as a moment where one of the agents is working to break down security footage are quite interesting.

Many of the veteran actors featured also gave good performances. In films such as this, there isn’t much in the way of character depth, but in recreating what these people were going through, many of the performers do great work. Goodman, Bacon and J.K. Simmons all have good moments on screen.

While Berg’s film feels a bit by-the-books at times and his inclusion of Wahlberg’s character is a rather large flaw, everything else featured is pulled off nicely. The film goes into great deal to show the courage and resiliency of the citizens of Boston, especially in the moments after the bombings with people trying to help. It’s not great, but still worth checking out. 3.5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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