Friday, January 13, 2017

Peter Berg's PATRIOTS DAY is a (sort of) patriotic, suspenseful look at that infamous Boston Marathon

PATRIOTS DAY, which opens nationwide today, proves a pretty good example of what a docu-drama can accomplish when it is written with some flair, filmed smartly and acted well, This one, directed and co-written (with four other writers) by Peter Berg (shown below) takes us back a few years to the 2013 Boston Marathon and the sudden bombings that rendered the event what is now referred to -- as with every act of (so often) homegrown terrorism -- as a national "tragedy." I would call the recent and rigged election of Donald Trump far more tragic for America than any of these murderous events, but the dreadful results of this election on everyone except the wealthy are only beginning to unfurl.

As is his wont -- see Deepwater HorizonLone Survivor  or his early (and still best) film, Very Bad Things -- Mr. Berg does a busy, brawny job putting together the many pieces of his docu-drama. Patriots Day is filled with all kinds of characters, and those to be major to the movie are singled out early. Most of these are based on real people, and the film has been cast (with a single exception) exceedingly well, with faces and figures that seem for the most part quite reasonable and real. The cast here does not resemble the usual ultra-buffed-and-toned, perfect-teeth people from so many of those TV, cable and movie journeys into the supposedly "real."

The one exception, unfortunately, is the movie's star, Mark Wahlberg (above and below, center), who gives a perfectly OK, if occasionally heavy-handed performance as the Boston cop who holds the movie together and becomes its focal point. This character does not even exist in reality, so basing the movie around him seems much too easy a way to earn questionable emotions via short-cut storytelling. (That's Michelle Monaghan, two photos below and at bottom, who has the thankless role of the made-up wife of this made-up character.)

So many other of the real characters, shown here in both their acting counterparts and (at the finale) as themselves, are so vital and interesting, that I believe the movie could have succeeded even better by simply using them and leaving out Wahlberg's created-out-of-whole-cloth cop. As much as his many scenes might seem to help hold the film together, they're actually unnecessary and simply add foot-tapping time to the film's very long, two-hour and seven-minute length. Tightened up, it might have zipped by and still had its cumulative emotional effect.

The movie's most suspenseful scene involves the kidnapping/car-jacking of a young chinese immigrant, the results of which will keep on edge anyone who did not follow all the ins and out of this bombing scenario (and very probably even those who did). Unfortunately the scene ends with our heroic fellow telling the cops to "Get those motherfuckers!" Even if the guy actually uttered these by-now-uber-cliched words, here, they come off as mere fodder for the mainstream.

The finale, in addition to showing us the real people involved, also demonstrates how Boston came together in a way in which citizens helped each other through the crisis. It's good to be reminded of this, though the movie does bang its point home a bit hard. (That's a thinned-down John Goodman, above, center, as the police commissioner, and Kevin Bacon, below, as the FBI guy in charge of the case.)

Still, for the most part, Patriots Day does a good job as docu-drama, moving fast and steadily toward the initial incidents, and then showing us the police/FBI work that went into discovering the identities of the perpetrators. All this does bring up an interesting point about surveillance vis-a-vis privacy. In this case, having cameras everywhere in public places was able to bring the culprits to justice and makes its case for this kind of surveillance.

On the other hand, all the private phone-tapping and email-probing did little good in this instance (the government has evidently not been able to make a case against the older Tsarnaev brother's wife). The fight for privacy of all Americans in terms of their correspondence -- spoken and visual -- still matters.

From CBS Films, Patriots Day opens wide today, Friday, January 13. To find a theater near you, simply click here and then scroll down, type your zip code into the proper slot, and press ENTER.

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