Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Movie Review: PATRIOTS DAY

Patriots Day is the second film in 2016 by director Peter Berg and, as with his other 2016 feature, this film stars Mark Wahlberg. In addition to Wahlberg this film has a cavalcade of great performers including John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Kevin Bacon, Alex Wolff, Themo Melikidze, Jake Picking, Michael Beach, Rachel Brosnahan, Christopher O’Shea, Mellissa Benoist, Michelle Monaghan, and Jimmy O. Yang. This film depicts the events of the Boston Marathon Bombing from April, 2013 including events just before the bombing, during the bombing, and the manhunt to catch the two bombers after the bombing.

Reviewing this film feels like an impossible task for someone like me, especially given my viewing experience. To set the stage, I currently live in the Boston area and saw this at theater in the heart of downtown (the AMC Loews Boston Common 19 for Bostonians) with a crowd of people from the area (including a couple victims, some first responders, and charity groups for some of the deceased victims). This is the best group to see a film like this with from an emotional perspective, but the worst when trying to be a critic. When you’re in particular company being told particular things it is very difficult to look at things dispassionately. I don’t think that I have to to review this though, and I personally don’t want to. Patriots Day is a powerful film that is a brilliant tribute to first responders, victims, and, frankly, all the people of the cities of Boston, Cambridge, and Watertown.

The beautiful thing about Patriots Day is the filmmaking choice to not have an agenda or a real point of view about the events taking place. Yes, the bombers are the film’s villains. Yes, the first responders are undoubtedly the heroes and Wahlberg has a monologue pointing this out later in the film. But, aside from that very basic moral narrative, this film is incredibly documentarian. It shows ugliness in the process as people have their rights curtailed and and people struggle with extremely tough decisions. It shows conflict between the Boston Police and the FBI, amongst others. It shows real human connection and real human tragedy. It puts everything on the table and just says to the audience, “respect the heroes and remember the victims, otherwise think for yourselves.” Very few films, especially about modern events, manage to do that and I think that is Patriots Day’s greatest strength.

On top of that, the film locks you in to certain events and emotionally primes you to care when bad things happen to good people. I wondered about the wisdom of having such a long preamble to the events of the bombing but, after seeing the rest of the film, I get it. Each character they choose to highlight has a purpose in the story and the film shows the events from many different perspectives. One might reasonably argue that there are too many plotlines, but without so many points of view we wouldn’t get the full picture. I also found that the directorial choice to blend in real footage with film footage was a bold one and one that largely paid off (more on that later).

The last positive thing I want to note is the excellence all of the performers brought to this film. There are many big names and, for the most part, they all blend in perfectly to the setting and make you feel like you’re watching these events actually playout. The only real exception to this was with Mark Wahlberg who I constantly noticed. At the same time, he did a very good job playing his part and lending a sense of Boston legitimacy to a project that many people feared was a too-quickly produced cash grab on a real world tragedy (which I am pleased to say it wasn’t). Overall, the cast convinced me that they were these people and I found myself lost in the story rather than watching actors play things out on-screen.

There are very few negatives I can point out in this film mostly because of good filmmaking. but also because of the overwhelming power of this story. There were some poor editing moments between the real world and filmed footage that was visually jarring. This never took me out of the story as, if anything, it made this film more “real,” but it didn’t look great on a strict visual level. I also thought there were some moments (one toward the end of the film especially) that did feel more “Hollywood” than real. This is a tiny gripe in context to the whole story but there is a brief moment I felt that way.

The final thing I want to comment on before I conclude is my sense of perspective on this story. There were a couple very surreal moments in my theater, including one moment that caused raucous applause in a situation that would surely disturb some persons (especially those highly concerned with the legitimacy of individual rights). I think that audiences (and individuals within audiences) will react differently to some moments. I think that is the way a story like this should be, and the fact that a film like this leaves the audience to do that themselves is why I commend it beyond other similar works.

Overall I found Patriots Day to be an emotionally striking film that paid brilliant tribute to heroes and the human spirit. It showed hate and love. It showed a community (and individuals therein) coming together in a time of crisis. I think this is a beautiful film and one of the best of 2016.

Ryan’s Score: 9/10

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