FILM Patriots Day
Following Friday Night Lights, Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, director Peter Berg is fast becoming the populist Michael Mann.
But where Mann has increasingly transformed the mainstream thriller into an abstract artform to reflect the uncertainty of the world around his characters, Berg has become a master of deploying high-end docudrama techniques to recent American history in order to make sense of the chaos from a blue-collar perspective. That impulse finds its most definitive expression in Patriots Day, a gripping, multi-angled dramatisation of the 2013 Boston marathon bombing and the citywide manhunt that followed.
Berg regular Mark Wahlberg takes the lead as Boston PD homicide detective Tommy Saunders, a fictional amalgam of several key players whose presence allows
Berg to spin a lot of narrative plates without losing focus. That’s important. Rigorous dramatic reenactments – which make effective use of real news clips and mockedup surveillance footage – put us in the moment with the victims, the first responders and the terrorists themselves, simulating the confusion of the attack with wrenching exactitude. But as the film moves into the investigation side, Wahlberg’s character provides continuity, allowing Berg to build up a bigger picture of what was happening. This makes for a film that’s undeniably tense and about as exciting as action movies get.
Yet it never feels exploitative or artificially emotive. Though sincere in its celebration of American values, it’s smart in its willingness to acknowledge the complexities of the world by eschewing the rampant knee-jerk jingoism one might expect from a film with this title.