PATRIOTS DAY

Empire (Australasia) - - CONTENTS -

★★★★★

OUT NOW RATED M / 133 MINS

DI­REC­TOR Peter Berg CAST Mark Wahlberg, John Good­man, J.K. Sim­mons, Kevin Ba­con, Michelle Monaghan, Jimmy O. Yang, Alex Wolff, Themo Me­likidze

PLOT April 15, 2013: two rad­i­calised brothers plant home-made bombs at the fin­ish line of the Bos­ton Marathon, which kill three and in­jure hun­dreds. The Bos­ton PD and FBI launch a mas­sive manhunt for the killers, while the brothers at­tempt to flee the city; all of Bos­ton is caught up in the es­ca­lat­ing chaos.

AF­TER LONE SUR­VIVOR and Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon, Peter Berg has com­pleted a tril­ogy of re­cent-his­tory odes to salt-of-the-earth Amer­i­cans star­ring Mark Wahlberg. (Al­though Wahlberg is pen­cilled into Berg’s next movie as well, so the run may con­tinue.) Fo­cussing on the 2013 Bos­ton Marathon bomb­ing, which claimed three lives and in­jured hun­dreds, Berg has hit a high point – an en­gross­ing, and of­ten har­row­ing, thrill ride. If you’re hop­ing for an ex­plo­ration of what could drive two brothers to such vile deeds, look else­where: Berg doesn’t ex­ces­sively de­monise the Tsar­naev brothers, but this is pre­sented from Team Blue’s POV. What you get is a text­book case on how to build ten­sion when you al­ready know most of what’s com­ing.

The lead-up to the bomb­ing it­self is deftly han­dled. Know­ing it’s about to hap­pen, watch­ing the peo­ple stand­ing next to the bags, is tor­tur­ous — a ris­ing storm of ten­sion fed by the score by Trent Reznor and At­ti­cus Ross

(The Social Net­work, Gone Girl). The movie is rated M, for mod­er­ate im­pact vi­o­lence, but the bomb­ing and its im­me­di­ate aftermath is grue­somely af­fect­ing; those with weak stom­achs might avoid eat­ing steak tartare be­fore­hand.

But Berg has judged just how much gore to show, and just how long to show it, to max­imise the im­pact with­out ac­tu­ally wal­low­ing in suf­fer­ing.

The screen­play is based on the metic­u­lously re­searched non-fic­tion ac­count of the Bos­ton Marathon bomb­ings Bos­ton Strong, by Casey Sher­man and Dave Wedge, and is shot in a slightly shaky cin­ema verite style (a Berg favourite), so it’s tempt­ing to re­gard it as a quasi-doc­u­men­tary. But for all the de­tail Berg has crammed into the film, it has also been moulded to con­form very neatly to Berg’s cin­e­matic world­view, cen­tred around work­ing-

class Amer­i­cans wear­ing some kind of uni­form. The let­ter of the law gets short shrift here — fol­low­ing the gut in­stincts of beat cops is more im­por­tant. While some of the cast­ing is re­mark­able, for both tal­ent and verisimil­i­tude, Mark Wahlberg’s char­ac­ter isn’t based on a real cop, but rather an amal­gam of sev­eral Bos­ton cops. It’s not a bad de­ci­sion – it helps pro­vide one con­sis­tent pres­ence for the en­tire film, which could oth­er­wise feel a tad episodic as it moves through the dif­fer­ent phases of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. But it’s worth re­mem­ber­ing that this is a fic­tion­alised ac­count of those four or five days.

Patriots Day is re­ally a po­lice pro­ce­dural — there’s some screen­time de­voted to the vic­tims, but mostly this is about the manhunt. Which means jug­gling mul­ti­ple strands, so Berg re­lies on some heavy­weight ac­tors who can make their scenes feel big­ger than they are. John Good­man sports a star­tling pair of eye­brows as Bos­ton po­lice com­mis­sioner Ed Davis; Kevin Ba­con man­ages both laser fo­cus and fraz­zled frus­tra­tion as FBI Spe­cial Agent Richard Des­lau­ri­ers, who has the thank­less task of co­or­di­nat­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion; JK Sim­mons is a sub­ur­ban po­lice sergeant who finds him­self un­ex­pect­edly drawn into the mount­ing manhunt.

The other ma­jor strand is, of course, the killers. And here you have two ac­tors ab­so­lutely killing it (as it were) in very un­sym­pa­thetic roles. Themo Me­likidze as al­pha-dog brother Tamer­lan Tsar­naev, and Alex Wolff as the more Amer­i­can­ised younger brother Dzhokhar Tsar­naev, are both sen­sa­tional. They ra­di­ate gen­uine in­sta­bil­ity and dan­ger with­out slid­ing into easy car­i­ca­ture, and they hint at com­plex­i­ties that the script doesn’t even at­tempt to grap­ple with. There’s no moral am­bi­gu­ity here: the Tsar­naevs are bad guys who did, af­ter all, bru­tally kill and maim; but as char­ac­ters, they aren’t card­board cutouts, ei­ther.

There’s al­ways a dan­ger with this sort of film — es­pe­cially com­ing only a few years af­ter the event — that it can veer to­wards be­ing ex­ploita­tive; Berg avoids that trap by wear­ing his heart on his sleeve at all times, and closes with in­ter­views with some of the real peo­ple por­trayed in the film — a not-so-sub­tle way of an­nounc­ing you have the im­pri­matur of the sur­vivors. (And for Red Sox fans, a cameo from David “Big Papi” Or­tiz — a sure­fire way to get the peo­ple of Bos­ton on­side.)

TIM KEEN

VER­DICT Berg cap­tures the hor­ror of the 2013 Bos­ton Marathon bomb­ing, and the breath­less manhunt that fol­lowed, in a grip­ping, if largely nu­ance-free, thrill ride.

Left: Mark Wal­h­berg as Bos­ton PD of­fi­cer Tommy Saun­ders. Above: Com­mis­sioner Ed Davis (John Good­man), FBI Spe­cial Agent Richard Des­lau­ri­ers (Kevin Ba­con) and Gov­er­nor De­val Pa­trick

(Michael Beach).

Left: Saun­ders and wife Carol (Michelle Monaghan.)

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