"Patriots Day" is all heart and delivers on so many levels.
There's a scene near the end of Peter Berg's mesmerizing film that defines the film as a whole. Tommy Saunders(Mark Wahlberg) is talking to another cop about the battle that police officers(and humans as a whole) face every day. The battle between good and evil, and how love can be the make or break factor in winning that fight.
In any other film, the exchange would come off as corny and over the top. In this film, which documents the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, it fits in perfectly. This film is about getting knocked down and rising back up to take back a city. "Patriots Day" is truly the Rocky Balboa of true-story comeback flicks.
When the film was announced, there were people who wondered if the film was needed and if so, was it too soon? The bombings took place nearly four years ago, so the wounds are still fresh with emotional sutures. Berg's work here puts that to rest, because he handles these brutal yet true and triumphant tales like a master. Take one look at Berg's resume and it's full of go for broke heroic tales. "Lone Survivor" documented a failed Navy Seal mission and "Deepwater Horizon" detailed the events of the BP Oil Spill. Each were done tastefully and with the assistance of real players, participants, and victims. Berg and Wahlberg were born to bring this movie to audiences, and the timing couldn't be more perfect. We need this movie and it needs us.
The film starts up the night before the bombings, with an introduction to Wahlberg's Sergeant Tommy Saunders. It's a composite character due to the fact that several officers played a key role in this five day ordeal that stretched from Boston to Watertown, Massachusetts. Saunders is our moral compass, and there's nobody better to play a Boston roughneck cop than one of the true sons of the town.
Wahlberg is an underrated actor, and slips into the role of Saunders easily. One can tell the actor spent many days and nights talking to real cops, people, and communities affected by this tragedy. Sometimes, actors have to put the hours in to rightfully do a role justice, and that is what Wahlberg did here. It's not a great performance, but a solid one that gives the film all it needs.
The supporting cast is impeccably put together, with John Goodman stealing scenes as the commanding Ed Davis, the former Commissioner of Boston who worked with FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers to help track the bombers. J.K. Simmons plays Watertown Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese to a tee and Michelle Monaghan is effective in the role of Carol Saunders. She is the face of hundreds of Boston police officer spouses that day who wondered how much of a toll the attack would take.
It doesn't just end with the big names here, because James Colby's performance as Superintendent Billy Evans is fantastic. Colby looked and walked like the real Evans, and is a true face of film. The roles of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev aren't easy to play, but Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze really embue these two troubled men with feeling and something deeper than pure evil. Michael Beach has a good role as Governor Deval Patrick and Khandi Alexander steals a scene late as a gritty nonsense-less interrogator. There isn't single actor here where you'd refer to as fake or forced.
The tough-as-nails script was put together by Berg, Matt Cook, and Joshua Zetumer, with the story adding Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson as credited hands as well. A large bowl of writers usually stands out as a red flag, but with a story of this scope, the sense is there in needing to fully tell this story right. The film was adapted from Boston Strong, an account of the events written by hardcore journalist Dave Wedge and esteemed novelist Casey Sherman (The Finest Hours), and the film feels like a passionate and thorough retelling.
The attention to detail here is impeccable, with so many moving parts and story adventures. Berg allows you to meet many of these people before the madness begins, so once it does, those character are true people and not mere props for a film to spring off. One of the biggest souls behind the Wahlberg character construction was retired Boston cop Danny Keeler, and there is a scene in the film where Saunders goes into a restaurant near the bomb site and takes a swig of Jameson simply because he needs some kind of release. Keeler did that and it is those kind of reactions that make this film hit hard and honest. Berg is a master chess piece mover here, and always keeps the action moving forward.
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross create a restrained score that knows when to switch into high gear and simultaneously slow down. They won an Oscar for "The Social Network", and mix techno, rock, a subtle piano, and a versatile array of sound to accompany, without overpowering, the film.
The film is all heart, and never forgets what it's truly about; the hard working and charging folks of Boston coming together to bring down these terrorists. The scenes of victims in hospitals watching their lives change and evolve from terror are as powerful as it gets. The film serves a powerful reminder that love can be the biggest weapon in fighting hate. As long as there is more good than bad, the war can be won. "Patriots Day" is as much of a celebration of a city's willpower than a basic retelling of an event.
The film is remarkable, knocks you down, picks you back up, and should be seen by everyone. As Wedge told me in an interview this week, people go to movies for different reasons. Entertainment is one of them. The need to feel something and learn something also exists there. "Patriots Day" does all three and then some, and succeeds off the strengths of Berg's classy direction that is equal parts visceral, blunt force equipped, and passion filled. The finale is soulful and takes a piece of you.
Berg and Wahlberg are just like us. They get out of bed every morning, and are built to break. They just get up and make gold records on film. They make powerful flicks that recount a time in history where blue collar folks had to dig deep to save themselves and their city. They are a dream team.
Patriots Day is Berg's masterpiece. He's the true star here. If you would have told me the supporting actor from Aspen Extreme would be directing heavyweight dramas based on true terror attacks, I would have offered you a ride to the crazy house. From "Friday Night Lights" to "The Kingdom" to "Lone Survivor" to "Deepwater Horizon" to this, Berg has created a field of versatile entertainment that doesn't stray too far from realism.
When I left this film, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Everybody felt something. Berg used real footage of the interviews with the victims and police officers who were a part of that week. This film can melt the toughest of cynics, and remind us that goodness is out there. Sometimes, it just has to be tested.
Here is a film that is worth your time, money, and a conversation afterwards. If you brew the coffee, I'll have it with you.
See you at the movies.