Director: Peter Berg

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan

Classification: M (Coarse Language, Violence, Mature Themes and Drug Use)

Review by Peter Gray

For a director many were writing off after the sting that was ‘Battleship’, Peter Berg is certainly proving himself a force to be reckoned with. Seemingly finding his niche with the real-life thriller subsect (his last two features were the standouts ‘Deepwater Horizon’ and ‘Lone Survivor) Berg is proving to be one of the more consistent directors working today, and his latest effort ‘Patriots Day’ only reiterates this further.

A little glossier compared to the more stripped down aesthetic of ‘Deepwater Horizon’, ‘Patriots Day’ is nonetheless an effectively produced thriller that succeeds at subverting audience expectation by focusing itself less on the event that was the Boston marathon bombings and more on the manhunt that followed.

Initially taking charge as the film’s heroic lead, Mark Wahlberg’s police sergeant Tommy Saunders garners focus as he manages perimeters of the marathon, before the eventual bombing and its aftermath are experienced through his point of view. Realistically portraying the fear and courage a regular officer would experience in the face of unimaginable terror, Wahlberg’s conveyance is strong, and the film benefits from his performance, but it’s when ‘Patriots Day’ adopts a more ensemble-friendly mentality that it truly thrives through the combined efforts of its cast.

As the manhunt is underway for the two brothers held responsible for the attack, Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff, respectively), the film starts to weave a series of character-centric narratives together, serving the film an intensity that I imagine will catch many viewers off guard; watch for an impressively staged middle-of-the-street firefight between the police and the bombers that acts as the film’s true centrepiece. Whether it be the off-duty officer Jeffrey Pugliese (J.K. Simmons) who inserted himself in the aforementioned showdown, the sweet-faced MIT officer (Jake Picking) unwillingly caught up in one of the brother’s carjacking attempts, or Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), the defiant driver who unexpectedly played a major role in their capture following him being held hostage in his own vehicle, the film impresses in how it handles its multiple strands; the whole cast is uniformly brilliant though with even the lesser roles earning their own spotlight moment, specifically Khandi Alexander’s female cop who interrogates Tamerlan’s radicalized wife (Melissa Benoist) in a later scene that gives something of a chilling insight into a primitive mind.

‘Patriots Day’ isn’t always smooth sailing though with Berg favouring the shaky cam method for some of the bombing scenes, which momentarily disrupts the command created, and some moments involving the back-and-forth bickering between the Boston police and the FBI agents brought in to investigate (led by a tightly-wound Kevin Bacon) could’ve had their pace tightened, but ultimately they are minor quarrels with a film that’s supremely impressive. Serving as a timely reminder that love and compassion overcomes even the most hateful of actions, ‘Patriots Day’ is that unlikely blockbuster that commands your attention whilst helping you escape.

My rating: 4/5

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