J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Patriots Day: The Boston Marathon Bombing from All Angles

It is an official state holiday in Massachusetts, Maine, and Wisconsin, commemorating the Battles of Lexington and Concord (they do not actually celebrate it in Florida, but residents are encouraged to like it on Facebook). By far, the best-known Patriot’s Day event is the Boston Marathon, considered the world’s oldest marathon still held on an annual basis. It still is, even after the storied competition was rocked by tragedy and terror in 2013. The events of the Boston Marathon Bombing unfold from all angles in Peter Berg’s Patriots Day (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Unless viewers really followed the case closely at the time, Berg and co-screenwriters Matt Cook and Jeff Zetumer will greatly expand your perspective on the savage atrocity and the resulting manhunt. One of our primary POV figures will be Sgt. Tommy Saunders, a composite cop working the finish line as punishment for unspecified disciplinary infractions. As first on the scene and a former beat cop for the neighborhood, Saunders assumes a lead role in FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers’ (he’s real) investigation.

Of course, we know radicalized Chechen Islamist brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were responsible and they planned to plant more pressure cooker-style bombs in Times Square. To get there, they carjacked Chinese national Dun “Danny” Meng, whose story will be a major revelation for many.

In addition to the cops and the terrorists, Berg follows several victims from the start of that fateful Patriot’s Day and throughout the aftermath. Somehow, Berg walks a perfectly fine line, depicting the grisly horror of the bombing, in no uncertain terms, without risking charges of exploitation or bloody shirt-waving. Even after watching the film, most of us civilians still will not really know what it is like to respond to this kind of terrorist attack, but this will be plenty close enough. Some real hardliners might object to the film’s depiction of Dzhokhar as a puppet controlled by his Svengali-like older brother, but their Islamist ideology is clearly and consistently portrayed (as is the younger brother’s taste in hardcore porn).

Mark Wahlberg is terrific, in a blue collar, slow-burning kind of way as Saunders. Obviously, he steps into the role of a Boston copper with a lot of credibility, but it is an honest performance that eschews showiness. Kevin Bacon nicely channels his inner Jack Webb as DesLauriers and J.K. Simmons is well-grizzled as Watertown Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese.

On the other side of the law, Alex Wolff is eerily petulant and amoral as the younger Tsarnaev, showing chops we’ve never seen from him before. However, the breakout star of Patriots Day should be Jimmy O. Yang, who sure-footedly covers the full emotional gambit as Meng. Arguably, the most poignant scenes feature the immensely likable Jake Picking and Lana Condor as MIT police officer Sean Collier and a robotics graduate student. However, it must be noted Khandi Alexander comes out of nowhere, delivering one of the greatest cameo performances since Alec Baldwin gave the motivational speech from Hell in Glengarry Glen Ross.

Patriots Day definitely goes for the heartstrings, but it earns it the hard way, carefully establishing dozens of characters and their places in the community. If you don’t feel something at the end of the film, you should probably be on a watch-list. Yet, Berg still stages the shootout scenes with enough gusto to impress action movie fans. Very highly recommended, Patriots Day opens today (12/21) in New York, at the Regal Union Square downtown and the AMC Loews Lincoln Square uptown.

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