By Tim Estiloz
How soon is “too soon” to make a film depicting the horrific Boston Marathon bombing, that scarred and maimed dozens of innocent victims, and left four dead, only three years ago? Most assuredly, the only ones truly qualified to answer that question are those directly affected by that unforgettable tragedy.
However, as evidenced by the new film Patriots Day, Hollywood and producer / star Mark Wahlberg apparently feel audiences beyond the confines of that select, still recovering group in Boston are ready to relive the bombing as entertainment disguised as a tribute to heroes.
Wahlberg once again teams up with director and screenwriter Peter Berg for the third time ( Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon ) to depict in vivid and often precise detail the events surrounding the bombing and aftermath. Patriots Day begins in the early morning hours before the Marathon, and weaves its way through the devastating event itself and the intense, often meticulous investigation by law enforcement that led to the perpetrators’ ultimately violent demise and capture in Watertown.
Director Berg does an overall admirable job presenting the series of events in rapid fire, no-frills succession with an abundance of detail. Berg’s script, when it focuses on the procedural narrative of events, gives a fascinating window into how the true heroes among law enforcement, first responders and victims navigated the maelstrom of shock and fear that enveloped the city for several frightening days.
The film is most effective when depicting how the real life law enforcement officials culled through the mountains of evidence to identify the terrorists and famously clashed with each other over the wisdom of releasing the photos of the bombers to the public. The actual players in the investigation, FBI Agent Richard DesLauriers ( Kevin Bacon ), Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis ( John Goodman ) and Watertown PD Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese ( J.K. Simmons ) all get well their well deserved due in the film. Even Boston Mayor Menino and Governor Deval Patrick’s involvement in the unfolding developments are depicted; as well as several other key real life heroes and victims of the bombing and their backstory.
The producers of Patriots Day, and most notably its star Mark Wahlberg have frequently repeated the mantra of wanting to “get it right” in terms of the facts and details surrounding the case; soliciting and generously receiving the assistance and advice of the actual players in this tragedy, most especially among law enforcement. To the extent of depicting the heroism under fire by the key and supporting players, and Boston itself as a city, Berg mostly succeeds.
That in mind, it’s mind bogglingly contradictory when Patriots Day has Wahlberg playing a fictional Boston police sergeant named Tommy Saunders. In a film filled with real life characters and genuine heroes for whom the film is meant to be a tribute; the inclusion of Wahlberg’s make believe ( or composite ) character as a key player throughout the film borders on egregious insult.
Saunders somehow manages to be in every key scene and development throughout Patriots Day. Saunders is on site when the bombs explode. Saunders is at the FBI command center advising real life characters on how to proceed; in between spouting bravado filled inanities such as “they ( the bombers ) messed with the wrong city”. Saunders is in the Watertown neighborhood the night of the shocking gun battle between police and the bombers. Saunders is everywhere in this film.
Wahlberg’s fictional Saunders even gets two key emotional moments to emote; while other more deserving real life characters get short changed by comparison. In a shocking change from the facts as they actually unfolded, the fictional Saunders is the one to discover blood under the boat tarp where the bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured, when in fact, the boat’s owner made that discovery.
We are told Wahlberg’s Saunders character is an amalgam of other real life players in the saga. If true, it appears the script has cherry picked multiple characters who played a part in every key moment in this dramatic tale, in order to give producer / star Mark Wahlberg maximum screen credit as one of the film’s heroes.
Director Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg’s previous films together, Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon cast Wahlberg in the role of real life hero. At least those films had their bravado based in some level of reality. However, if Patriots Day is a film meant to walk a tightrope between truly honoring the real life bravery of the Marathon Bombing participants and presenting the events in a manner to “get it right”; then, the amazingly faux Hollywood heroism of the fictional Tommy Saunders topples the film into outright insult and insensitivity to the real heroes accomplishments and memory.