Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, January 20, 2017

Critic's Corner: It’s not too soon for Patriot's day

About an hour into “Patriots Day,” I decided to drop my cynical attitude about the film and give over to the dawning realization that it’s not a bad movie. In fact, it’s actually pretty good.

I went into “Patriots Day” thinking it was unnecessary. Based on the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the ensuing terrorist manhunt, the movie follows a handful of people as they experience the events of that day and the aftermath. This includes victims, police officers, the terrorists themselves and more.

I questioned the need to turn another American tragedy into entertainment. I was also certain “Patriots Day” was going to be emotionally manipulative.

The movie does shamelessly tug at the heart strings. But at some point, I realized the filmmakers had no other choice. The bombing was devastating for its loss of life and tragic for how the lives of the severely injured were changed. The only way to not make an emotional film about the bombing would be to write and direct it with a sense of ironic detachment.

I was wrong, however, in questioning whether “Patriots Day” should have been made. I reached this conclusion during a tense and well-made stretch of the film that ends in a shootout in a Boston neighborhood at night.

If one were to remove the human element from “Patriots Day” and take this portion of the movie on its own merits, it would work exceeding well as popcorn entertainment. Engineering student Dun Meng’s escape at a gas station after the terrorists carjacked and kidnapped him is a nail-biter, and the shootout between the terrorists and police gave me a sense of what it must have been like to be there.

If “Patriots Day” has a purpose beyond chronicling the events of that day, honoring the victims and paying tribute to the durability of the people of Boston, it’s generating sympathy for law enforcement. Due largely to the shootout, I walked away from the film appreciating what police officers face when they slip on their uniform and their ability to stride boldly into a dangerous situation.

Evidence of the solid work poured into “Patriots Day” is evident throughout the film. Working from the book, “Boston Strong,” by Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge, writers Peter Berg, Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer juggled a lot of story details and characters without doing any of them an injustice.

From the build up to the bombing, to the initial stages of the investigation, to the pursuit of the terrorists, to the emotional coda at the end (when the actors step aside to make room for the real life victims), the writers also created a tight and focused path through what must have been jumbled set of circumstances.

Berg also directed. While I’m not a fan of jerky handheld camerawork and constant close-ups, this approach worked for “Patriots Day.”

The shootout I mentioned is particularly well done. Berg shows just enough of what happened to ground his viewers in the action and then uses sound to communicate the rest. If “Patriots Day” is accurate in its depiction of the encounter, the officers involved could hear everything that was taking place but couldn’t see much of it.

Berg did a remarkable job of communicating the confusion and panic they must have felt as they stood vulnerable to a terrorist’s bullet and fired into the darkness.

“Patriots Day” also sports a strong cast. Playing the movie versions of real life characters are John Goodman as Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis and Kevin Bacon as Richard DesLauriers, FBI special agent.

Mark Wahlberg is also on board as Boston Police Department Sergeant Tommy Saunders, but his character doesn’t actually exist; rather, Saunders is a composite of all of the officers who were at the finish line when the bombs exploded.

If I have a beef with “Patriots Day,” it’s with the use of an amalgamated character. Since the film is meant to honor the heroes of that day, the writers should have looked harder for another champion instead of melting everyone down into someone who didn’t exist.

This also makes “Patriots Day” susceptible to questions about its faithfulness to the events of that day.

Regardless, “Patriots Day” does what its makers set out to do: It provides an engaging (and occasionally gripping) account of a sad day and its heartrending aftermath, honors the heroes of that storm and underscores the strength of the people of Boston.

I pray there’s never a sequel.

Three out of four stars