The writers behind “Patriots Day” were apparently concerned that the film’s narrative – about the bombing attack at the 2013 Boston Marathon and the subsequent manhunt for the perpetrators – would be too familiar to viewers. How would they stretch this incident over the two-hour length prerequisite for a serious Hollywood drama?
Tear-jerking back stories, that’s how.
The film follows many Bostonians, from assassinated officer Sean Collier, who enjoys the Zac Brown Band, to amputees Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, who love each other very much even though they keep red wine in the refrigerator, to brave carjacking victim and case-breaker Dun Meng, who is a successful flirt with the checkout girl at his local noodle shop.
Indeed, everyone in the film is based on real characters with the sole exception of the protagonist: Mark Wahlberg’s Boston police sergeant Tommy Saunders (pronounced often, and with gusto, as TAWMY SAWNDAHS). He’s a sort of everyman springing from Boston’s collective self-belief, an eastern John Wayne, with a nagging knee sprain that gives him a familiar hitch in his giddy up.
His brothers in arms include men with thick accents, like Boston police commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), men with thick accents and mustaches, like Watertown police sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese (J. K. Simmons), and those with neither, like FBI agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon), a comparatively overcautious spook about whom the cops groan, “We can’t just sit back analyzing data!”
All of Beantown’s men must find the Tsarnaevs, Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) and Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff), who show their devotion to radical Islam in different ways – the elder builds pressure cooker bombs, the younger watches boring jihadi videos while slurping cereal milk.
The tone of “Patriots Day” is hard to figure – the serious subject matter is almost entirely undercut by the self-parodic Boston-ness of the whole production (a man in lobster costume reappears three times at the race, apparently just to give us the pleasure of Wahlberg yelling, “Tha lobstah’s baaahk!”).
After working on “Lone Survivor” together and putting out “Deepwater Horizon” just last summer, director Peter Berg and Wahlberg now seem to bang out a topical film every six months or so – expect their flick on how a regular joe from Southie solved the Russian hacking crisis in a theater near you come Christmas.
“Patriots Day” is a cinematographic hodgepodge, overfull of handheld cameras wobbling, pixelated security videos stuttering, real life helicopter footage blurring and standard action film bombast aestheticizing every blood drop.
The film’s best scene seems dropped in from a different movie. A police interrogator (Khandi Alexander) gives a Miranda rights-free interview of Katherine Russell, Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s wife (Melissa Benoist). The hijabbed questioner asks if there are more bombs and dismisses Russell’s plea for a lawyer succinctly: “Honey, you ain’t got s---.” But the suspect responds with a surprising, and frankly convincing, answer as a woman wound up in the “strength and submission” required of the wife of a terrorist.
While Berg might claim his movie is about the power of the citywide collective over individuals, it is perhaps a stronger take on the fecklessness of millennials. Probably the most despicable characters are the college kids who wouldn’t give information about Dzhokhar’s identity to the police because, in addition to being a wannabe jihadi, he was a real weed dealer.
‘Patriots Day’ is showing at the Sonoma 9 Cinemas. Rated R. Running time 2:13. Visitcinemawest.com.