Film review: Hunt for the Boston bombers
Peter Berg's recreation of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing is grimly realistic
The Boston Marathon is special: it's been running since the late 19th century, and is the oldest annual marathon in the world. But its proud heritage will always be overshadowed by the events of April 15, 2013, when two bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three and injuring several hundred others, 16 of whom lost limbs. They were planted by Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, brothers of Chechen extraction whose connection to the global jihad was never especially convincing.
Peter Berg's thriller meticulously recreates the events of that terrible day and the subsequent manhunt for the Tsarnaevs that gripped the city, and the world. They, perhaps understandably, are the film's punch bag: they're never quite humanised, and I had to stifle the impulse to cheer when bad things started happening to them. But Patriot's Day is admirably paced, and demonstrates how easy it is for a couple of fools to cause massive amounts of misery.
Berg and Mark Wahlberg have collaborated on two other fact-based dramas in the last four years: the 2013 war drama Lone Survivor, and last year's disaster epic Deepwater Horizon. In Patriot's Day, Wahlberg plays the film's only real fictional character, a Boston police sergeant who's in the doghouse.
Tommy Saunders is on foot patrol working off a suspension when the bombs go off, and is quickly dragged into the ensuing investigation. Boston through and through, Tommy knows the city centre like the back of his hand, and when the FBI take over the investigation, he works with agents pouring over surveillance camera footage in search of the perpetrators.
Pretty soon, they spot the brothers, a manhunt is launched, and for four days Boston is gripped by fear as the net slowly tightens. The brothers aren't bright, and leave a trail of helpful breadcrumbs: Dzhokhar is seen on a grocery store camera buying milk, and the pair then car-jack an SUV and shoot dead an MIT policeman. They're eventually cornered in the suburb of Watertown, resulting in a spectacular confrontation.
Patriot's Day boasts a pretty strong cast: John Goodman plays Boston police chief Ed Davis, Kevin Bacon is the head FBI agent, Michelle Monaghan is Tommy Saunders' wife, and JK Simmons brings his usual heft and charisma to the role of Jeffrey Pugliese, the Watertown police sergeant who played a key role in stopping the Tsarnaev brothers from attempting another bomb attack in New York.
The film's agenda is simple: to depict the horror of the bombing, and show how Boston came together to catch the killers and reaffirm its sense of community. This it does, without excessive flag-waving, but in many ways Peter Berg's film works like an old-fashioned thriller, and once the search for the Tsarnaevs begins Patriot's Day really comes into its own. The chase gathers real momentum, and the shoot-out in Watertown is brilliantly handled, and includes some of the best editing you'll see.
Wahlberg is most at home playing working class everymen, and does so here with great conviction. He, Goodman and Bacon work together nicely, and, as mentioned earlier, the Oscar-winning Simmons is in a class of his own.
The film's problem, dramatically speaking, is that the Tsarnaevs seem more like sewer rats than people, and as a consequence are impossible to engage with. Tamerlan's wife, Katherine (Melissa Benoist) is depicted as a defiant accomplice in the attacks, a characterisation her lawyers have a problem with as she was never charged with any crime. And then there's the troubling fact that while attacks far more deadly than this one take place routinely across the Middle East, nobody makes films about them.
That said, Patriot's Day is extremely well made, and impossible not to be drawn in by, though it was a mistake to end with the inevitable coda in which we hear from the real participants. However well intentioned, it undermines the dramatic integrity of all that's gone before.
Films coming soon...
Logan (Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook); Free Fire (Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Cillian Murphy); Trespass Against Us (Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson); Certain Women (Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern).