Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Patriots Day

Title: Patriots Day

Describe This Movie Using One Simpsons Quote:

Kent Brockman: We'll be back with a real-life Itchy and Scratchy: a rabid mouse in Boston who attacked and killed a small cat.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Mark Wahlberg single-handedly solves the Boston Marathon bombing, mostly.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevent To The Film: Three cans of baked beans out of five.

Tagline: "The inside story of the world's greatest manhunt."

Better Tagline: "Boston strongarm."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: On Patriots' Day (April 15), 2013, two pressure cooker bombs were set off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Thanks to the efforts of the Boston Police Department, the FBI and various other agencies, the bombers — brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev — were identified, sparking one of the largest manhunts in U.S. history.

"Critical" Analysis: As discussed on this very site back when Deepwater Horizon was released, director Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg have developed a comfortable cottage industry making heroic re-enactments of real-life tragedies. Lone Survivor told the story of Marcus Luttrell, the last SEAL standing after a fight with Afghani militants, while DH focused on the heroic efforts of workers and crew to escape the doomed offshore drilling rig.

Patriots Day is a film very much in the mold of its predecessors. The heroes are tireless men and women of stout disposition and never-say-die demeanor, while the villains are stupidly misguided at best, irretrievably evil at worst. It also walks a line between Survivor’s hagiography and Horizon’s relative lack of jingoism to give us a gripping thriller that stumbles occasionally under the weight of its perceived significance.

This dramatic weight is evident from the get-go. BPD sergeant Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg) isn’t one day from retirement, for a change (that’s reserved for Special Agent DesLauriers, played by Kevin Bacon), but he is one day from coming off suspension. We also meet a number of the victims in the lead-up to the bombings themselves, including newlyweds Patrick Downes (Christopher O'Shea) and Jessica Kensky (Rachel Brosnahan), shown in bed with soon-to-be lost limbs entwined in a particularly stark example of foreshadowing (forelegging?).

And also, thinking about it just now, these movies are a kind of cheat. Berg is depicting actual events, so his only real task is fidelity to the details…except when it isn’t. “Tommy Saunders” is a composite of several real-life people, which is an odd choice, considering Berg went ahead and included most of the other actual key figures involved (fun fact: Kevin Bacon plays the head of the Boston FBI for the second time [the first: Black Mass]).

In truth, Berg’s commitment to Wahlberg might be having an adverse effect. As the audience avatar, Saunders is adequate, even if his presence/actions in every significant development of the case betray the character’s hodgepodge nature. He’s at the finish line when the explosions go off (“Those are BAWMS!”), directs the surveillance camera review for the FBI, participates in the climactic shootout *and* discovers Tsarnaev hiding in the boat? Why, he’s what Clarence Boddicker would call a “super cop.”

But Wahlberg’s persistent Masshole persona grates quickly, as does the perpetuating of the idea that somehow Boston is the only city that would respond this way to an attack ("They messed with the wrong city!"). Because any other metroplex would just throw up its collective hands and surrender to ISIS on the spot, apparently. It’s also curious that there are movies in New York City where not everybody talks like Ratso Rizzo, yet literally everyone in Patriots Day sounds like “Sully from Dorchester” except survivor Jessica Kensky (Rachel Brosnahan) – whose lack of an accent is joked about – and the Tsarnaev brothers themselves.

[And not only are the Tsarnaevs terrorists with no regard for human life; apparently they're also 9-11 truthers. Like you needed to hate them any more.]

As with his previous efforts, Berg ultimately does right by the fallen while also making a largely engaging whodunit, no mean feat considering we all already know who, in fact, done it. And in the future, it might be prudent for Berg to leave Wahlberg to the Transformers franchise when casting his eventual re-enactment of World War Trump.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar