Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Alex Wolff, Themo Melikidze, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, Michelle Monaghan, Christopher O'Shea, Rachel Brosnahan, Jake Picking
Rated R for Violence, Realistically Graphic Injury Images, Language Throughout and Some Drug Use
I remember the Boston Marathon bombings. I wasn't glued to my TV or phone watching it happen minute by minute like they show random people doing in movies like this, but I knew what was going on. It was really surreal, watching the city of Boston go on lockdown. It was almost like a real-life movie. Of course, making a narrative feature out of an event that everyone knows inside and out is challenging for a director who wishes not to bore his audience. Peter Berg tries his best, but the results are decidedly mixed.
The city of Boston is gearing up for the famous, annual marathon. Disgraced cop Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg) is irked at the fact that he has to do patrol for the event, especially with a bum knee. Husband and wife Patrick Downes (O'Shea) and Jessica Kensky (Brosnahan) are going to watch the race, patrol officer Sean Collier (Picking) is asking an MIT student to a rock concert. Of course, what should be a beautiful day turns to horror as two explosions rock the event, causing three deaths, numerous injuries and leading up to a manhunt that causes Boston to literally shut down.
Even if the audience doesn't know the details of what happened on that day, they know the gist of it. That's not such a bad thing. A good filmmaker can use that to build up a sense of dread before the inevitable happens. "American Sniper," "United 93," and other films have turned an audience's knowledge of the film's subject into an asset. Berg knows how to do this; he did it in last year's "Deepwater Horizon," another bio-disaster pic (which, coincidentally, also starred Wahlberg). But he doesn't accomplish that here. His decision to follow nearly a dozen characters during the opening act doesn't allow the film to build any dramatic tension. The bombing is similarly lacking. The first one made me jump, but it feels rushed and almost anecdotal. The chaos and terror is muted; I remember one episode of "Nip/Tuck" which was about a plane crash that made me feel the panic and horror. "Patriots Day" doesn't even come close. The characters are cardboard cut-outs and the sequence is too quick to feel any drama.
The acting is fine, but not standout. Mark Wahlberg digs into his bag of tricks to play a Bostonian who drinks too much and has a temper. It's not a great performance, but in all honesty, it's not a great part either. John Goodman and Kevin Bacon lend their talents, although neither has much to do. Michelle Monaghan is utterly wasted; surely a filmmaker would respect her considerable gifts and allow her some real meat to work with, but alas, she's there more to put her name on the marquee.
Surprisingly, the best performances come from the unknowns. Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze are arresting as the Tsarnaev brothers. The film is always at its best when it focuses on their storyline. Christopher O'Shea and Rachel Brosnahan are also very good as a married couple whose lives were completely altered at that event. However, just as their story is getting interesting, they're forgotten about until the very end. The best performance comes from Jake Picking, who plays the fallen police officer Sean Collier. He's a charmer and has genuine screen presence and appeal.
"Patriots Day" feels like it was rushed through production. Characters are half-baked, plot holes are at times obvious, and the whole thing feels like a missed opportunity. It has become expected in these true-life stories to have the real people who were portrayed by the actors to come on screen and offer their perspective, but it's been done far too often and feels like a cliché. More importantly, no one offers anything new that we haven't seen or heard before. As a result, the last five minutes feel more like an overlong infomercial than a genuine token of respect for the real people involved. I don't have any doubts about the filmmakers' intentions, but that's what comes across.
This certainly isn't a bad film. It's never boring and contains some genuine suspense. Perhaps it was made too close to the actual events. But it is nevertheless disappointing.