Grip­ping cel­e­bra­tion of ev­ery­day hero­ism

Pa­tri­ots Day (15)

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - FILM REVIEW - By Demetrios Matheou

PETER Berg’s recre­ation of the Bos­ton Marathon bomb­ings in 2013 has all the trap­pings of a dra­matic thriller – a man­hunt, spec­tac­u­lar gun­fights, clashes be­tween po­lice and the FBI – but with the ter­ri­ble, tragic fris­son of real life.

And it un­avoid­ably raises the ques­tion: how much time should film­mak­ers leave be­fore recre­at­ing an act of ter­ror­ism that af­fected an en­tire city? For some, watch­ing the film may elicit a slight feel­ing of guilty voyeurism.

Berg and fel­low screen­writ­ers do have an an­swer, in what is clearly their cen­tral am­bi­tion, namely to cel­e­brate that city’s ex­tra­or­di­nary com­mu­nal re­sponse to cri­sis. This comes across loud and true. The re­sult is ex­cit­ing, grip­ping, hor­ri­fy­ing, sad­den­ing and also very touch­ing. That’s quite a pack­age.

Berg is one of those job­bing di­rec­tors who may not have a dis­tinc­tive au­tho­rial voice, but knows how to de­liver wellorches­trated ac­tion dra­mas, often based on true sto­ries. Lone Sur­vivor con­cerned a failed US Navy Seal mis­sion dur­ing the Afghan war, Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon the oil rig ex­plo­sion that led to the world’s big­gest ac­ci­den­tal oil spill. Both starred Mark Wahlberg, who with Berg’s help is fash­ion­ing him­self as an Ev­ery­man hero, and now stars as a fic­tional po­lice of­fi­cer (a com­pos­ite of real in­di­vid­u­als) who finds him­self at the cen­tre of the bomb­ings and the en­su­ing man­hunt for the per­pe­tra­tors.

The film starts in dis­arm­ingly comic mode, as Wahlberg’s Tommy Saun­ders grum­bles through his tem­po­rary de­mo­tion from de­tec­tive to uni­formed of­fi­cer. Wahlberg can do ban­ter­ing com­edy with his eyes closed, while be­ing a Bos­to­nian him­self lends a cer­tain ve­rac­ity to Saun­ders’s early scenes. With these, and the in­tro­duc­tion of a hand­ful of char­ac­ters (some who will be­come vic­tims, oth­ers po­lice of­fi­cers who will play a part in events), Berg is il­lus­trat­ing the false sense of calm ex­pe­ri­enced by the city be­fore all hell broke loose.

We also meet the two Chechen-Amer­i­can broth­ers Tamer­lan and Dzhokhar Tsar­naev (Themo Me­likidze and Alex Wolff), home­grown ter­ror­ists who are about to cre­ate that chaos. Then Berg reels us towards the race fin­ish line, where Saun­ders is told that work­ing the marathon will be his “last penance” be­fore re­turn­ing to de­tec­tive work – an irony that is about to hang bit­terly in the air.

The lead-up to the bomb­ings is un­bear­able, the crowds en­joy­ing the big day obliv­i­ous of what is about to hap­pen; the af­ter­math sick­en­ing and sad. Berg and his team com­bine ar­chive footage of the event with fic­tional film, in a way that im­merses us in the hor­ror with shat­ter­ing ef­fect.

From the mo­ment of the ex­plo­sions the film be­comes some­thing of a pro­ce­dural drama, fol­low­ing the first re­spon­ders as they try to cope with the in­jured, then the man­hunt led by FBI Spe­cial Agent Richard DesLau­ri­ers (Kevin Ba­con), with the whole of Bos­ton in lock­down and the broth­ers’ heinous deeds far from over.

Whether or not you know what en­sued, the ten­sion is skil­fully cranked to the max. Some scenes are ter­ri­bly sad, oth­ers ab­surdly ex­cit­ing, the whole in­formed by the knowl­edge that many of these char­ac­ters are based on real peo­ple. In fact, Wahlberg’s Saun­ders, un­fea­si­bly al­ways in the thick of the ac­tion, is the least in­ter­est­ing of all of them.

The film’s sketchy por­trait of the broth­ers’ Is­lamic ex­trem­ism seems in keep­ing with what au­thor­i­ties have learned; more pow­er­ful is the sib­ling dy­namic, the older Tamer­lan very much the in­sti­ga­tor, his younger brother a creep­ily will­ing acolyte. The film­mak­ers are far less in­ter­ested in try­ing to un­der­stand these un­equiv­o­cally loath­some in­di­vid­u­als, than in cel­e­brat­ing the hero­ism of those who were forced to re­spond to their crimes.

John Good­man as Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Ed Davis in Pa­tri­ots Day

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