Published by Glasgowist.
Patriots Day, directed and co-written by Peter Berg, is electrifying, violent, unnerving, and thoughtful – emerging as an unprecedented highlight of the Glasgow Film Festival.
The film documents the Boston Marathon bombings and the city-wide manhunt that ensued when two bombs were detonated 12 seconds apart on April 15, 2013. Considering how recent this tragedy was – in which three people were killed and several more receiving lifechanging injuries – the wounds are, understandably, still raw. But Patriots Day honours Boston with a faithful, respectful, and commendable tribute to their bravery and solidarity.
Interspersing the film throughout with real footage from CCTV cameras, helicopters, and drones, Berg gives the film an utterly chilling, unnerving, and authentic edge. Particularly, the sequence of a minute’s silence for the Newtown massacre victims before the marathon’s opening gunfire creates a nail-biting, suspenseful calm before the storm which is beautifully executed.
In the film’s introduction, we meet the no-nonsense, lovable rouge cop Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg) whose talents are seemingly wasted when he is sent to marshal the race following a suspension for allegedly assaulting a fellow officer.
Boston-born Wahlberg is a true revelation as he portrays a tough guy with heart, humour, and grit who saves lives and takes charge, despite his own fear, in a situation of true chaos. As the film’s lead protagonist, Tommy takes on a leader’s role, confronting the FBI (headed up by a superb Kevin Bacon as Special Agent Richard DesLauriers) on their flawed practice, and insisting on the merit of his own profound understanding of Boston’s people and his knowledge of the city’s geography.
In the leadup to the explosions, we are offered glimpses into the lives of ordinary people – a married couple, Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky, and a father and his young son – who we realise will soon be affected by the tragedy that is mere minutes away. A succession of moments of increasing volume, excitement, and movement that quickly disperse into quiet allow for palpable tension to build and build to an almost unbearable level until the moment of the explosions comes.
Following the thrilling panic of the attacks, Berg provides a thorough, detailed re-enactment of the complex manhunt that followed with a close look at the FBI’s recreation of the event, their efforts to fine comb through CCTV as well as footage and images from the public, and how they utilised anti-terror technology to track down those responsible.
In a gripping, climatic, and, literally, explosive showdown between police, and terrorists Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze) and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff), the brothers plan their mission to travel to New York to detonate more bombs, kill more civilians, and become martyrs. Melikidze is outstanding and chilling in his portrayal of a determined, callous, ice-cold killer. Wolff, too, is excellent as a brainwashed layabout watching bomb-making tutorials like they are videogames – a character so detached from reality that he texts his friends ‘LOL’ when they question why his image is all over the news.
With excellent direction and casting, Patriots Day doesn’t glorify American heroes, glamorise war, or demonise villains. It paints the real heroes as the people of Boston themselves who came together to help friends, family, neighbours, and strangers in their time of need.
The film illustrates the resilience of the human spirit and the kneejerk reaction of overwhelmingly love, not hate. It is an appropriate homage to Boston Strong and a reminder of how an entire city that was shook, terrified, and completely shut down, came together to support each other instead of rushing to hate.
In a genius conclusion, real-life survivors of the attack, including Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky, and members of the police service and the FBI give their thoughts on that day and the impact it has had. A particularly moving moment is when Kensky describes the tragedy as the worst and best time of their lives as we see her and her husband embrace in tears as they finish the marathon on prosthetic legs for the first time since the bombings.
Patriots Day is about just that, patriotism. It’s about American spirit, resilience, and solidarity. It’s about pride, community, and strength in the face of adversity. But the overriding message of the film is that these barbaric acts of brutality, violence, and terrorism that happen in cities around the world do not succeed in causing the immense hateful reaction they are intended to incite. Instead, they bring civilians together and evoke an unrivalled, awe-inspiring level of humanity, kindness, and love.
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