‘Patriots Day’ The Movie: Too Soon to Capitalize on Tragedy?

by Tim English on January 13, 2017

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Up]

Not to be insensitive, but doesn’t it feel a little too soon to be bringing the tragic events of the 2013 Boston Marathon to the big screen?

Like it or not, Mark Wahlberg stars in Patriots Day, the movie. Yep, the events that shook the nation and made “Boston Strong,” covered so well by CNN, Facebook, and Twitter, is a movie, just three years later.

Wahlberg stars as Boston cop Tommy Saunders, and I’m pretty sure he’s really just playing the human embodiment of the City of Boston. In the movie, Saunders is on duty during when the bombing happened and his instinct to risk his own life and protect his city is the rally point of this flick as he joins the manhunt for the Tsarnaev brothers, the terrorists who orchestrated the bombing right under their neighbors’ noses.

The film is directed by Peter Berg, who has teamed with Wahlberg, like three times now, including Lone Survivor and as recently as this past fall, with Deepwater Horizon. Berg wisely focuses on the horrifying aftermath, rather than mounting unnecessary tension leading up to the bombing. By telling the story through the eyes of characters based on real people who experienced and survived the tragic ordeal (except Wahlberg, who plays a composite of several people), it helps to put the audience right into the action.

Unfortunately, the most powerful images don’t hit the screen until the final credits roll to footage of the actual survivors who inspired the characters depicted in the movie. And it just kinda begs the question…how soon is too soon when adapting a real life tragedy? This really is a hypothetical question, I know Hollywood doesn’t care.

But my problem with telling this story so soon is it all feels so familiar still, or more importantly, the wounds too fresh. Of course, it’s only been three years and not only that his all played out so vividly on TV and through social media in such amazing detail. It already felt like we were there as this unbelievable manhunt unfolded and the details about who these guys were oozed from the people who thought they knew them.

Berg is a great director (as long as we’re forgiving him for Battleship) and Wahlberg gives one of the better performances of his career, even if he’s playing a mashup of just about every tough-cop character he’s ever played. The surrounding cast, including the likes of Kevin BaconJohn GoodmanMichelle Monaghan, and J.K. Simmons, all are at the top of their game.

But sometimes when you get actors like that, it feels like an all star tribute to the situation rather than an attempt to really tell a story. Thankfully, it’s when the movie is focusing on the victims of the tragedy and less on the manhunt, when the film has a chance to dig into the emotional soul of this city’s courage to come together. But, when you’ve got guys like Marky Mark and John Goodman and the guy from Footloose, you tend to lean on them.

The pain and the horror of what happened are still pretty fresh. It may feel too soon to revisit the tragic events of Patriots Day, but thanks to a reliable cast this thriller is still a solid viewing, even if the movie itself doesn’t deliver the emotional impact it should.

Writer. Ad Man. Jedi. Sometimes people ask for my opinion on movies. Sometimes they agree. Member of the Kansas City Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Creator and voice of the Reel Hooligans podcast. Find us on iTunes. Board member for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City and founder of the Terror on the Plains Horror Festival.

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