Hopefully it’s just a bizarre coincidence, rather than a sign of things to come, that the release of Boston Marathon Bombing pic Patriots Day coincided with President Trump’s ugly, un-American, anti-Muslim travel ban this week. Then again, as Peter Berg’s depiction of 2013’s domestic terror attack slides uncomfortably close to liberal propaganda in closing minutes, perhaps he saw this sort of unpleasantness coming, this being somewhat of an over-reaction.
Berg’s true story ensemble thriller follows victims, perpetrators, and their pursuers on the day of the tragic attack and the tense hours that followed. It’s a fairly comfortable juggle of multiple narrative threads that wisely does more than outline the cat-and-mouse basics. As the film goes on to show, the Tsarnaev brothers’ motivations remain muddy, and the effort to identify and apprehend them more reliant on everyday citizens and patrolmen than the United States’ vaunted security apparatus – this not being a film that fetishises data-mining, gadgets, and interrogations.
Patriots Day is more concerned with showing Boston reacting to, and defeating, the threat posed by two disconnected, radicalised young men. Mark Wahlberg, once again our wide-eyed everyman connection to bewildering events, is so at home as a strongly-accented Police Sergeant here that you almost expect a talking teddy bear to turn up. Kevin Bacon and John Goodman are among the no-nonsense cast leading the city’s response, with solid, unshowy performances, and J.K. Simmons takes centre-stage in the film’s most heart-stopping showdown.
Wisely never sliding into full action-movie mode, despite the presence of serious gunplay and vehicular action, Berg shows respect for the Tsarnaevs’ victims, while demonstrating his knack for the chaos of urban carnage and combat. It’s chilling in places, even knowing how it all plays out, but in over-tugging heartstrings, Patriots Day underestimates its audience, ending weakly.