By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The first commandment in making a movie about a recent real-life tragedy like the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing is to demonstrate respect for the victims and heroes being depicted.
That’s necessary if we viewers are to avoid the guilt that might come with our recognition that we are sitting here being “entertained” by the dramatization of this horrendous, traumatic occurrence, when two pressure-cooker bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three civilians and injuring nearly 300 others.
We don’t want this tribute tainted with the stench of exploitation or tastelessness.
On that score, the primary movers and shakers behind Patriots Day, star/producer Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg — having done it twice before, in Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon — pass with flying colors.
Patriots Day is an intense docudrama about the bombing and the four-day, city-wide manhunt that followed.
And if it doesn’t quite pull off this tricky and touchy endeavor with the perfection of a film such as United 93, which set the bar high for this kind of project, it at least comes close enough to gain our admiration and gratitude.
It’s a tribute to the victims, the first responders, the investigating officers, and the public that collectively comprised what we came to call Boston Strong.
The first act is the lead-up to the race, the second is the bombing itself, and the third is the manhunt, comprising a virtual police procedural.
Wahlberg plays a fictionalized composite character named Tommy Saunders, a Boston police sergeant whose perspective much of the film adopts.
Initially distracting – and bringing up fears that this might turn into a Mark Wahlberg flick instead of what it should be – it’s a device that makes its case sufficiently by the film’s midpoint, that we accept this as a reasonable and perhaps necessary artistic strategy: Wahlberg’s character is our guide on this hellish tour.
Director Berg (Very Bad Things, Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom, Hancock, Battleship) co-wrote the script with Matt Cook and Joshua Zeturner from the story by Berg, Cook, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson.
Berg knew he was taking a chance casting some of the major characters with familiar celebrity faces, but it’s an approach that probably helps the audience become oriented to such a sprawling mosaic, especially when everyone in the ensemble is this well cast.
This includes John Goodman as the Boston police commissioner; Kevin Bacon as the FBI agent in charge; Michelle Monaghan as Saunders’ wife; J.K. Simmons as a Watertown, Massachusetts police officer; Jimmy O. Yang as the Chinese immigrant who escaped from the perpetrators’ car and called 911; Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff as the terrorists; Khandi Alexander as a police interrogator; Melissa Benoist as a terrorist’s widow; and Michael Beach as the Massachusetts governor.
Among quite a few others.
The civilians most prominently depicted are based on real people as well, and Berg smoothly incorporates real news reports, as well as security footage and bystander footage, to help complete this complex portrait of teamwork in the midst of chaos, the effective pairing of police action and civilian cooperation.
In addition, despite our knowledge of the chronology of events, and without altering actuality, the film manages to include several sequences of nail-biting suspense.
So make it 3 stars out of 4 for Patriots Day, a movie that sweeps aside our trepidation and makes us grateful that the material was handled so caringly in a detailed, realistic, riveting, heartfelt, moving testament to the victims and heroes involved in the vividly gruesome events of that nightmarish day.