Films about real life incidents either come across as a watered down version of reality. Or otherwise, they take the opposite route. “Patriots Day” goes the whole hog. It is a big blown-up version of the incidents that shook Boston On April 15, 2015 when the city was rocked by multiple explosions.
Director Peter Berg designs the film as a high-adrenaline thriller. This is not such a bad thing when we consider that the message of love conquering terrorism could easily be trapped in tripe. Berg pulls the inherent melodrama out of its self-imposed cloistered world of schmaltz and drama and creates a watchable if not entirely riveting, blow-by-blow account of the hours after the explosion at the Boston marathon race when the city went on high alert and fought off panic with exemplary bravery and restraint.
The narrative follows the thriller ‘disaster’ blueprint. In the preamble, we are introduced to various characters, all happy, peaceful and in love with life. We know what they don’t know. We know what is coming. The life-changing impact of the explosions is never played down in the storytelling.
Berg allows us to feel the full force of the brutality and moral arrogance that underline all terror attacks. While the quotient of predictability in the presentation never plays down the impact of the tragedy, some of the situations and characters are way too sanitized and saddled with an artificial nobility to be anything more than prototypes of crisis and its management.
Also problematic is Mark Wahlberg as the Boston policeman who battled the crisis in the most heroic way, lending the city of Boston his valiant pride that emblazoned the entire township stymied by terror. Wahlberg is at best, an adequate hero of the crisis. He could’ve been a lot more. He chooses to be just functional in the ambience of exacerbated anguish. It’s like holding back tears at a mass funeral.
The outstanding Kevin Bacon is even more turgid in the FBI agent’s role. The rest of the cast make do.
The backroom bickering among the authorities is designed with all the elegance of canines barking over their territorial domination. There is an unevenness in the quality of humanism that the narrative tries to scatter across the crisis. While some episodes, like the one with the Chinese student’s car-jacking works with gripping efficacy, other post-explosion sequences exploring the politics and the backroom bickering over the politics of terrorism, seem manufactured.
What keeps the heart ticking in this true life representation of a terror attack is the sincerity of purpose, punctuated by the finale when we see all the true life heroes of Boston, some of them with limbs lost but infinite wisdom gained, telling us that in the final reckoning, it is love that conquers hatred.
This may be hard to believe, given the present-day reality. But it’s an ideal we don’t mind encountering in our movies. “Patriots Day” does not fill our hearts with a surge of exhilaration. But it does tug at our heartstrings now and then and never allows our attention to stray too far away from the crisis at hand.