Patriots Day

Posted on January 12, 2017 at 5:28 pm

Copyright 2016 CBS Films

Writer/director Peter Berg and actor/producer Mark Wahlberg have now made their third film in a row on the same theme: real life stories of everyday people showing exceptional courage and dedication in the direst and most tragic circumstances. “Lone Survivor” was the story of a disastrous Navy SEAL operation. “Deepwater Horizon” was the story of the BP oil rig explosion. Now “Patriots Day” is the story of law enforcement from the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon to the killing and capture of the brothers responsible.

In all three films, Berg takes a story we know — or think we do — and creates a gripping, tense drama centered on a man who exemplifies American values of decency and integrity and shows exceptional ability to rise to the occasion. Wahlberg is a perfect choice to play those roles, and here he gives grace and dignity to the role of Tommy Saunders, a composite character based on the Boston cops who were on the ground when the bombs exploded, oversaw triage to manage the crowd and oversee emergency services and then tracked down the people responsible in just 19 hours.

And as in the earlier films, Berg’s focus is not on the people making the big policy decisions but on the people who are dealing with the consequences. He begins a brief but vivid chance to get invested in some of the key players just before Boston’s annual Patriots Day race, including some of the participants who will later be injured and Saunders, unhappy about being assigned to the race and struggling with a bad knee. Everything is the usual benign chaos until suddenly it becomes terrifying and catastrophic as the bombs explode near the finish line and no one knows what happened, who caused it, or whether more attacks are coming, with an anxious score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, as Saunders and the other cops have to try to figure out what is going on, surrounded by severely injured people and panicked crowds — and, probably, somewhere, the bombers.

The minute-by-minute procedural section is engrossing, with territorial squabbles and conflicting priorities involving the police force and the FBI. The injured people may have crucial information the cops need right away but they also have injuries that need treatment right away, treatment that could make it difficult or impossible for them to talk or remember. The press insists on releasing photos of possible suspects despite law enforcement’s concerns that it could impair the investigation. And what do you do when a key witness insists on a lawyer, or decides to leave the police station? One of the most powerful scenes in the film is the interrogation by a hijab-wearing FBI agent of the wife of one of the suspects, an incendiary performance by “Supergirls” Melissa Benoist. The film does not take a position on the abandonment of Constitutional rights in an emergency with perhaps hundreds of life at stake; it just presents it as the immensely complex problem with no right answer that it is.

And then, with ultimate respect, it concludes with footage of some of the real heroes. That’s the crying part, as it should be.

Parents should know that the theme of the film is a real-life terrorist attack with many characters injured and killed and some graphic and disturbing images of bodies and wounds; also very strong language, some bigotry, and some drug use.

Family discussion; How did social media affect the way this attack was investigated? What does this movie have in common with the two other fact-based stories from the same director and star?

If you like this, try: “Lone Survivor” and “Deepwater Horizon”

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