Mark Wahlberg comes to the rescue, yet again, in Patriots Day.
PATRIOTS DAY (Peter Berg). 133 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens Friday (January 13). See listing. Rating: NN
Having celebrated the American military in Lone Survivor and the blue-collar heroes of Deepwater Horizon, actor/producer Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg reunite for a study of terror and resilience in Patriots Day, a docudrama about the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013.
Like Deepwater Horizon, it’s better than I expected – albeit nowhere near as good as it might have been.
Recreating the days surrounding the bombing, the film follows various parties – among them the victims, the bombers and a half-dozen or so police and FBI figures – through the terror and chaos of the attack, the investigation and the manhunt that paralyzed the city three days later, when brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were identified as the culprits.
Berg’s film is at its best when it lets solid actors like Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist and Jimmy O. Yang find little character moments amidst the relentless tick-tock of information.
It’s less compelling when it focuses on Mark Wahlberg’s fictional Boston PD cop, Tommy Saunders, who comes loaded with a clichéd backstory that has no real bearing on the action. The character may be meant to help the audience navigate a complex story with dozens of key locations, but it absolutely feels like a vanity move for Wahlberg, letting him insert himself heroically into the action when literally everything of importance in the picture is done by other people.
In addition to letting Wahlberg play a Boston hero, does Patriots Day do anything else? Not really. It’s effectively tense, and its epilogue is undeniably powerful, but that’s got more to do with smartly deployed documentary footage than the movie itself. Berg doesn’t have any sort of perspective on the events beyond Terrorism Is Bad, Cops Are Great and Boston Is Strong.
All that’s fine for a telegram, but if you’re making a motion picture, you ought to have a little more to say.