Watching Peter Berg’s Patriots Day is a weird feeling. If for no other reason than the plot of the movie, about the Boston Marathon Bombing, is still relatively fresh in most people’s mind. There’s no real distance or perspective to it.
Berg seems to love to work with ensemble casts. There’s John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Kevin Bacon, among others. The unifying piece is Mark Wahlberg as Tommy Saunders. Saunders is one of the few characters in the movie who isn’t real. He’s more of a composite of different police officers involved. His main function is to serve as a guide for the audience.
Wahlberg’s Saunders is the tough, no-nonsense utilitarian type of character he’s perfected so well. Wahlberg’s job is to ground the movie emotionally for the audience, and he does it well. His confusion and pain at the events unfolding help put the moment in perspective we can understand.
If nothing else Berg sets out not to try and explain the reasoning behind the bombings or even how the media covered it. He’s set out to show how a bunch of people in Boston were presented with a seemingly insurmountable problem and how they went about solving it. Berg and his co-writers Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer sprinkle enough humor to keep the movie from being crushed under the weight of the tragedy.
The humor works because it comes from everyday mundane things. Such as when Sgt. Pugliese (J.K. Simmons) talking with one of his fellow Watertown Officers about a malfunctioning patrol car. Moments in which people talk about the mundanity of life. Like when Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff) and Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) argue with Tamerlan’s wife, Katherine, (Melissa Benoist) about why the baby needs whole milk and not two percent. Patriots Day is less concerned with why people do things and more content with just watching people do things.
There are moments where characters express concern with how the system is working such as when Wahlberg asks “Did he just say don’t Mirandize her?” regarding the detainment of Katherine. But the movie skates on past the issue. It could be argued it’s because the film is already just over two hours and Berg realizes you only have so much attention to give.
I think it’s more likely he just doesn’t care. Not that’s he’s apathetic to the concerns. He’s more interested in showing “Boston Strong” and watching people react and observing how we come together than he is dissecting abuses of power in chaotic situations. A film maker’s job is not to discuss everything you’re interested in; their job is to make you interested in what they’re interested in.
Patriots Day is an effective and taught procedural that is oddly enjoyable. There are scenes of breathtaking action such as when the Tsarnaev brothers stumble upon the brute, unforgiving wall of the Watertown Police Department. There are also scenes of quiet intensity between two people. Particularly notable, is a moment between an interrogator played by the criminally underused Khandi Alexander and Benoist’s Katherine. Alexander and Benoist go toe-to-toe as they strive not to show all their cards. It’s one of the best scenes in the entire movie. It showcases the immense talent of Alexander while also proving that Benoist is a star to watch for.
With enjoyable performances from the likes of Goodman, Simmons, and Michelle Monaghan to help ground the higher stakes plot, this movie more than earns its price of admission. Besides, any movie that talks about or even features baseball, can not be totally without merit either. But really it’s hard to hate a movie where one character tries to teach another to correctly talk in a Boston accent. “The ‘r’ is silent.”