It’s a curious question why Patriots Day was released on MLK weekend instead of on the actual Patriots’ Day in April. Maybe it’s because the holiday is only relevant in certain parts of the country. Maybe it’s so the film can come out on DVD around that time. Or maybe it’s because the producers just didn’t (or did, who knows) see the irony in releasing a movie that seems almost co-written by Blue Lives Matter on a holiday weekend dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr…
In the same year as Deepwater Horizon (the winner of my 2016 “Movies I Almost Forgot I Saw This Year” award), Peter Berg has made another film about a national tragedy starring Mark Wahlberg. Released less than four years after the event, Patriots Day recounts the events of the Boston Marathon bombing, and the search to find the perpetrators. It’s so soon after the event that it’s strange to see it depicted in such a revisionist way. Not that there’s anything inherently incorrect about what’s being depicted, it’s just that I’d so much rather see a documentary about this (there is one on HBO, I guess).
The movie features at least five different storylines, though none of them are all that compelling and most of them are subsequently ignored once they serve their purpose. The main plotline follows Mark Wahlberg as a fictional jerkwad (maybe that’s just the Boston talking) who has one job left until they’re reinstated as a police sergeant. That job is to supervise the Boston marathon, but Wahlberg’s character soon gets swept up in all the madness.
The real question here is, why was this movie made in the first place? I understand for Wahlberg the process of making the film evoked some sort of catharsis, but the end result just seems a little tedious. I’d like to think that the movie isn’t capitalizing off of tragedy or feed into anti-Muslim rhetoric (Ultimately, the movie does both, but I don’t think it intends to). But this is a movie that does nothing else but acknowledge that the bombing happened. The structure isn’t very coherent and the narrative isn’t interesting. Why does this movie exist?
I ask this question because at best, Patriots Day feels unnecessary and emotionally manipulative. At worst, it feels like propaganda.
The police officers are uniformly white, overly masculine and entirely celebrated. I’m not saying that police officers don’t deserve recognition for their work, but this glorification of police leaves me feeling really gross. Not to mention that the film memorializes whiteness while erasing the black cop who died in the actual conflict. The movie ignores any implications or ramifications whatsoever and turns itself into a big police publicity film. Heck, the movie is called Patriots Day. No apostrophe. Ugh.
Wahlberg’s character is a little strange. A conglomeration of numerous officers, he is simultaneously useless and the hero of the story. The first thing he does to help the investigation is remember the names of a bunch of local restaurants. Yet, he is also the one who finds one of the hiding bombers. I get that he is supposed to be a gateway character (for the audience to understand what’s going on), but it reeks of inauthenticity. And so soon after the event, it just doesn’t work.
Moving past my own personal cognitive dissonance, there’s not really all that much here that warrants any particular merit. I don’t know enough about Boston accents to know if they are good. Wahlberg evidently confirmed that they were all great, but some of them sound pretty shaky. Most of the intense action is okay, but it often strays into the unintentionally comical.
In a lot of ways, Patriots Day feels like a Wikipedia summary. As it is frequently cutting between different characters in different places, it showcases a lot of different perspectives but offers no real depth with any one of them. For a large portion of the film, it feels like nothing is happening. Characters that serve a singular purpose are given a significant amount of character development. It doesn’t pay off. By the end of the film, I felt like I had a broad overview of what had happened, but no insight or anything to take away from it. A 5-minute news brief created the same impression as this 145-minute movie. If there weren’t so many moments that felt gross, I’d have already forgotten nearly everything about this film.
Patriots Day is exploitative and unnecessary. I know it doesn’t want to do either, but it does both. I’m sure some people will feel a lot of catharsis from this story. Those people already know who they are. For everyone else, this movie does what you think it will.