Release Date: January 13th, 2017
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan
Director: Peter Berg
Studio: Closest to the Hole Productions, Bluegrass Films
Distributor: CBS Films, Lionsgate
Genre: Thriller Drama
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The latest film from Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg, Patriot’s Day is a movie about the horrible attack of the 2013 Boston Marathon, about the first responders and the following manhunt. It beats loudly on the drum of American greatness and resolve, a common theme of Berg’s recently and to no wonder, as he handles it exceptionally well. He seems to be the director most in touch with Middle America. But after seeing the movie, I am left questioning why beat on that drum.
Briefly, Patriot’s Day follows an ensemble cast lead by Mark Wahlberg, who plays a fictional police sergeant named Tommy Saunders, as they survive the initial bombings and begin the hunt for the suspects responsible. Bombs go off at the finish line of a marathon. Over the next several days authorities try to piece together the why and how and who. It’s a well made movie, it has the heart for the subject matter, truly believes it is doing it justice but really I question why even make it at all?
I cannot comment on how people should grieve, maybe seeing their real circumstances put to celluloid (well, digital) helps, but I could not help but feel like the film was an experience of picking at a scab. It’s not even four years and here we are, sitting in air conditioned theaters reliving awful attacks.
We don’t need that reminder. It’s happening with alarmingly regularity. Perhaps then the movies goal is to show us that in times such as these, that the strength of Americans is our hearts, our compassion for one another? I think in moments it does just that, but you wouldn’t know it by the audience’s reaction.
As I said, Patriot’s Day is a fine movie. I’d wager that if I watched it at home alone I would have been able to process through my thoughts in my own way, be encouraged by the bravery and love shown by some characters, but I could also be justly unsettled by the actions of others, the militarization of police, the waiving of rights in the hunt for The Enemy. Instead, when those moments of gray morality appear on screen what I experienced was not a solemn mediation on right and wrong, I heard cheers and applause.
The movie did that too. Berg crafted an experience in which the audience becomes blood thirsty for revenge against the attackers. We see so much of the victims, rightly so I think, and so much of the perpetrators being abhorrent that folks could not control their glee when vengeance was possible. At the sight of dozens of police firing blindly down city streets – cheers.
When a bullet hits an attacker’s leg in a particularly gruesome way – laughter, claps. When police unload their firearms in a fit of friendly fire into the rear of their own fellow police vehicle – the crowd laughs it off, its all OK right? Any chance for a slug to find its home in a terrorist’s chest was too tantalizing for the majority of the crowd to think about anything else. No one hoped to see Justice. They wanted Revenge.
Mark Wahlberg plays our main hero, as I said a fictional creation just for this film, a composite of several officers on duty those days. And through him the audience sees those moral lessons I think (or at least hope) Berg meant for the film. He congratulates a man who escapes to safety. Reassures him that what he did was a brave thing, the right thing. He focuses on taking care of his fellows.
When the order goes out amongst the police that they are not to read the Miranda warning, he alone speaks up and questions it. This should be a cue to the audience that this, at least as far as the movie and its creators is concerned, is not right, that something is certainly wrong.
Kevin Bacon’s character, the FBI lead in charge of the investigation practices reserve throughout, not wishing to create any worse situations in the city and country at large. They delay on labeling the event “Terrorism” until absolutely certain. They hesitate on defining the suspects as anything other than what can clearly be seen in photos, lest they incite anti-Muslim aggression.
These are the heroes and protagonists of our movie, doing everything within their power to get it right and handle things properly, but it seemed the only action worthy of merit in the eyes of the audience was when police yelled “Welcome to Watertown!” while firing an AR down the suburb road.
The film ends with the real people sharing their messages, their feelings about what had happened and how Boston had come together in those moments. That we should view things with love and empathy and thoughts on how we should view other such attacks around the world. That message fell on deaf ears it seems.
When leaving the theater I didn’t hear another audience member say a word about love, or empathy, or togetherness. I did hear, “They should have sent him to Allah with a pipe bomb in his ass.”