Movies like “Patriots Day” aren’t easy to review because giving a movie about a true, tragic event a low star rating makes one feel like a really, really crappy person. There’s a strong need to separate the actual event, the resilience of the victims, and the bravery of the police force and FBI from the mess that is onscreen. This review is in no way a knock against any of these people, but this movie (which is an account of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing), is just not very good.
This movie is obviously a passion project for Mark Wahlberg, who plays fictional police Sergeant Tommy Saunders (probably a compilation of a bunch of random, or even imagined, police officers). I know that Wahlberg loves his city, and I get it: the people of Boston are strong. But there needs to be more than hometown pride to justify something like this.
The film starts out like a typical disaster movie, slowly and briefly introducing a menagerie of characters going about their everyday lives. Instead of showing any insight whatsoever into the lives of these people, the movie gives us superficial ‘sound bites’ of their existence. This setup is tinged with a sense of dread because we all know the story and we all know what’s coming. Most of these scenes are filmed with a shaky handheld camera in what amounts to nothing more than a pathetic attempt to add some ‘realism’ to the story. The sad thing is that these people come across as just another checklist of anonymous faces, with nothing more to their story except that they were injured and persevere in spite of injury. They are forgotten for a big chunk of the movie, but finally turn back up towards the end. The victims and their families deserve far better than this movie.
I was uncomfortable during most of “Patriots Day” because the whole thing felt rushed and self-important instead of a sincerely heartfelt, meaningful tribute to the city of Boston. The action-packed shootout scenes made me feel gross and came across as an exploitative, sordid way to make a terrorist event thrilling and even exciting for the audience.
The close-ups of injuries and the after effects of the bombing made me feel embarrassed to even be watching the movie, so much so that I contemplated walking out. This whole moviegoing experience made me feel super crummy, like a sleazy onlooker taking sick pleasure in someone’s tragedy and misfortune. Even worse is director Peter Berg‘s unnecessary, distasteful decision to intercut lots of actual news footage of the terrorists into the movie.
There’s a moving documentary style piece at the end of the film that features real-life interviews with the police officers and some of the wounded, and of course a memorial piece showing photos of the three people who died. It’s a nice enough tribute, but everything about it still feels tacky. I would’ve preferred to see a documentary movie, period, instead of this dramatic recreation.