Patriots Day movie review: blurry portrait of a city

Get new reviews in your email in-box or in an app by becoming a paid Substack subscriber or Patreon patron.

Patriots Day yellow light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Unfocused like a 1970s cast-of-thousands disaster flick, and with little point beyond engaging in bland and easy propagandistic cheering. Boston deserves better.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): have enjoyed Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg’s previous collaborations
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

There are likely hundreds of amazing, moving stories to be told about the 2013 bombing at the finish line of Boston’s annual marathon… and dang if Patriots Day — named after the local holiday on which the bombing occurred — doesn’t seem to want to tell all of them all at once.

Patriots Day barely introduces us to one set of characters before jumping away to another.

Director and screenwriter (with Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer) Peter Berg might have been more successful zooming in on star Mark Wahlberg’s composite cop character Tommy Saunders and refracting this mammoth story through one man’s eyes; that worked for their previous team-ups depicting real-life catastrophe and heroism, Deepwater Horizon and Lone Survivor (though, to be fair, the Boston bombing is much more convoluted and sprawling than either of those events). Instead, Berg creates a meandering soap operatweet that barely introduces us to one set of characters and their situations before jumping away to focus on another on the other side of town; the film keeps doing that so that we never get to know anyone well at all. Like an old-fashioned cast-of-thousands 1970s disaster flick,tweet we’re meant to be engaged by the generic awfulness of the personal misfortunes of nearly anonymous people: oh, look at the handsome young couple who lost their legs on an afternoon outing! ah, how sad that this random child was tragically killed!

The “evidence grid” with which the FBI and Boston PD attempt to re-create the bombing scene is legitimately the most gripping bit in this movie.
The “evidence grid” with which the FBI and Boston PD attempt to re-create the bombing scene is legitimately the most gripping bit in this movie.tweet

Patriots Day gathers a bit of the steam of urgency it needs when focusing on the grunt work of the post-bombing police investigation and the manhunt for bombers Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff: My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, The Sitter) and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze) — this could have been a fascinating investigative procedural and psychological examination of the motives and mindsets of the perpetrators — but that aspect, too, is little more than shallow surface. Far more unforgivable is the film’s casual acceptance of the shocking reality that a major American city was basically put under martial law after the bombing; Massachusetts state governor Deval Patrick (Michael Beach: Insidious: Chapter 2, Broken City) raises an objection but then instantly shrugs it off. This is not something that should be normalized.

With a really terrific cast that also features J.K. Simmons (The Accountant, La La Land), John Goodman (Ratchet & Clank, 10 Cloverfield Lane), Michelle Monaghan (Pixels (2015), Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol), and Kevin Bacon (Black Mass, X-Men: First Class), Patriots Day is far from unwatchable. But I don’t know what the point of it is, beyond engaging in bland and easy rah-rah cheeringtweet for the nonspecific people of Boston, who deserve better than to be reduced to propagandistic pawns.

share and enjoy
If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
If you haven’t commented here before, your first comment will be held for MaryAnn’s approval. This is an anti-spam, anti-troll measure. If you’re not a spammer or a troll, your comment will be approved, and all your future comments will post immediately.
notify of
1 Comment
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
view all comments
Wed, Mar 08, 2017 12:51pm

I’m biast (con): bored with Rah-Rah-Murica, especially at the moment.