Mark Wahlberg as a Boston police sergeant in “Patriots Day.” PHOTO BY ROADSHOW
PATRIOTS DAY, directed by Peter Berg; starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, Themo Melikidze, Alex Wolff.
Everyone knows the story. It happened in April, 2013, in Boston, on Patriots Day. It begins with the running of the Boston Marathon. This is not a sports movie. The sport, the Marathon, with its own huge and largely joyful cast of characters, is the backdrop, seen briefly at the beginning of the movie. The Marathon puts the action in play.
The movie, another fact-based tragedy film from Director Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg, follows the investigation into the horrific end of the Marathon. Not thousands of runners celebrating the high of finishing the race, the spectators clapping and cheering the runners in.
Rather, two brothers, played by Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff, detonating a pressure cooker bomb, killing and maiming several in the crowd and creating what Jon Stewart called recently in another context “purposeful, vindictive chaos.” A nurse, played by Michelle Monaghan, tends to the injured at the bombed site, and the marathon fades from the action.
The story follows, in episodic fashion, the efforts of real life characters FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon), Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), and Watertown Police Sargent (J.K. Simmons). Wahlberg plays Boston Police Sargeant Tony Saunders, a fictional character whose presence at various locales ties the fast and frantic search for the brothers. The particulars of the sophisticated, hard-charging manhunt are done excellently.
Viewers know the main features of the manhunt: the police chase of the brothers, the entry of the FBI into the action, the spread of the search into nearby Watertown, the carnage left in the brothers’ wake, the death of one and capture of the other inside a boat pulled into someone’s ordinary driveway. The movie’s plot is driven by the police work, the effort and coordination of the agencies involved, the speed of their work. It is another race, this time for the killers.
The acting is as superb as might be expected from the cast. Stern and focused on their duty, Wahlberg, Bacon and Goodman portray the trajectory of the search with precision. The reliable, amiable J.K. Simmons adds a slightly softer note as the search spreads into his town.
The Tsarnaev brothers, played by Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff, whose own plot line intertwines with the others, come across not as maddened fanatics or bumbling goons, but as nearly ordinary people whose plan has gone hopelessly awry and whose only remaining goal is to escape.
The brothers do not escape. The Boston and Watertown communities and the law enforcement agencies work together to secure justice. The communities show the resilience for which they are justly proud, Boston Strong.
Two more points. On Feb 1, the New York Post ran a story about the marriage of long distance runner whose leg was amputated as a result of the Boston carnage and the fireman who saved her life. She was a spectator. He, called to the scene, rushed her to Massachusetts General Hospital. Two Boston Strong people.
Next, any movie with running either as a main plot or backdrop, calls “Chariots of Fire” to mind. Compare and contrast. The 1981 movie recounts athletes training for the 1924 Olympics. They run to overcome Anti-Semitism, and they run for the glory of God. They work together to field the best team they can, and they win. The Vangelis theme pumps hope and glory and grandeur through the movie, and the only applicable adjective to the movie is “uplifting.”
Not so for “Patriots Day.” It is satisfying to see good triumph and criminals vanquished. But the whole chain of events portrayed is set in motion by an almost inexplicable act of terror. Almost inexplicable, because there is an explanation, but it is unpalatable. Athletes using their training and skill to fight for acceptance or religion is recognizable to viewers. It is a high purpose. It is good. There is no overall good feeling when “Patriots Day” ends. Yes, people were strong and justice was served. But it is a movie of a catastrophe being resolved. It’s cleanup, restoration.