Emotionally Impactful, but flawed
Patriots Day (2016): The story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists responsible.
Oh boy. This is a tough one. On the one hand, you have an incredibly emotional event. Director Peter Berg (The Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon) certainly knows how to tug on your heart strings, and he does so with scene after scene. From an officer refusing to leave the side of the youngest deceased victim of the bombing, to Mark Wahlberg's Tommy Saunders explaining to us the battle of good versus evil over a montage of more victims seeing their loved ones for the first time after the bombings, I found myself tearing up quite often. But. But but but but. This is a flawed movie, and the more I think about it the more issues I have with it. There are too many interesting things that are just left on the side of the road to tell us a surface-level story.
I'm gonna jump right into the negatives. There are a lot of moral and ethical quandaries that are simply glanced over, or intentionally avoided. It starts early on with the whole "Reddit thought they found the bombers" thing. The film just glances over that, and gives us a quick sentence or two about the FBI/BPD debating over whether they're going to release the photos of the actual suspects or not while Boston destroyed the wrong suspects. There's another sequence where it's discovered that the American-born wife of one of the bombers will not be read her Miranda rights, and the film gives that half a sentence. There's another sequence where the FBI/BPD are debating whether they should call it terrorism or not, and the FBI provides a few reasons why they shouldn't call it terrorism right away, but then they call it terrorism right away. There were simply too many moral hurdles jumped to keep the film about the first responders and how great they are. Don't get me wrong: first responders are great and don't get nearly enough credit out there for the things they do, which I know I personally could never do, but I don't need a movie to remind me of this. I want a movie about the Boston Marathon Bombings telling me what law enforcement, the media, and everyone else involved had to go through to get this right in a post-9/11 world.
Now, there is one scene where we do get this, and it is easily the most interesting scene in the film. This scene involves an FBI interrogator, played by Khandi Alexander, and one of my favorite new actresses to the business, Melissa Benoist, who plays the American-born wife of one of the bombers. Benoist is interrogated by Alexander in this really interesting and engaging sequence of the interrogator trying to get in Benoist's head. But just as soon as the sequence begins, it ends. That said, the rest of this movie is still emotionally gripping and compelling, because even though I don't need a film to tell me how great first reponsers are.....they're still great, and everyone in this film knows it. There's a who's who trove of stars in this film from Mark Wahlberg to Kevin Bacon to John Goodman to Michelle Monaghan to freaking J.K. Simmons, and they all play their characters just as well as you would expect this A-list batch of stars to. There's some great sound design and editing going on, and the film is shot well too. I mean, it's a well-executed story, and even though you know it's tugging at your heart strings it still tugs at them, but that doesn't excuse this film for its lack of any sort of real depth. But the film does try and make up for its lack of depth in describing the events with depth among the characters. The film takes the first 15 minutes just to establish its characters which is GREAT. More films need to do this! I cared about these characters, and besides for the police officers I wasn't sure how the rest of them were going to play into this film initially but I still cared about them. This idea of being slow out of the gate has been lost in many films nowadays, but it was so refreshing to see it happen here.
But that STILL does not forgive the lack of depth when describing the events. Basically, we need more time. Time to process the events of this bombing, and time for history to tell us the cultural and societal impact of these events. Then we need a film to truly delve into the moral and ethical dilemmas these first responders faced when getting information out, and more importantly getting the right information out. Heck I personally wrote a paper in college about Reddit's well-intended but disastrous bomber search and how the media covered it and accidentally destroyed an innocent man's life. There's an entire film right there. But this film just wants to take a look at the events from a bird's eye view. That's fine, and there will be many who love this film. Heck there may even be many who think this is the best film of 2016. But to each their own. In my opinion, this film is a missed opportunity.
The Critique: While emotionally charged from start to finish and a well-executed film, Patriot's Day fails to reach greatness because of a painfully surface-level story.
The Recommendation: Look. I think a lot of people will love this movie and will be impacted by it, especially if you have some kind of connection to Boston or the marathon. There are a lot of reasons to see this film. But, if you're not a big moviegoer and you hit the theater right now.....you can do better. I.e. 20th Century Women, La La Land, or Hidden Figures. To name three.
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 6/10 Above Average.
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