2016 turned out to be the year where writer/director Peter Berg finally got himself back on track after hitting a bit of a slump in a career that had been a little hit and miss. He started well with early favorites like “Friday Night Lights” and “Hancock,” but slipped a little with mediocre works like “Battleship” and “Lone Survivor,” two forgettable films that just weren’t up to snuff. However, he came back strong last year starting with the excellent “Deepwater Horizon,” a powerful and compelling film about a real-life disaster on an oil rig, but that wasn’t all. He also delivered another film about a real-life event that was just as compelling, concentrating on a despicable and cowardly act of terrorism during an event that is meant to be a celebration of the human spirit: The Boston Marathon.
“Patriots Day” begins the day before the marathon and focuses on police officer Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg), who had recently been suspended, but is slowly working his way back to his former position. However, before he can get there, he has to work the finish line of The Boston Marathon, keeping an eye on the officials and making sure everything goes perfectly. The race appears to be going as planned until two terrorists, Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff) and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze), set off a pair of bombs, killing three and wounding many others. Tommy and his fellow officers must quickly take charge of the situation and get help for the wounded, a difficult task, but one that they are eventually able to complete.
The investigation into the incident begins immediately, with a Special Agent from the FBI (Kevin Bacon) being brought in to take charge. With cooperation from the local Police Commissioner (John Goodman) and Officer Saunders, the team begins searching through footage from multiple security cameras in an effort to find anything or anyone suspicious. They are eventually successful in finding possible suspects, but the problem becomes how they are going to find them. Exacerbating the situation is the strong possibility that these terrorists will strike again, and little do they know, they are headed to New York City to do just that. It becomes a race against the clock to locate and stop these murderers before more innocent civilians suffer at their hands.
Right up front, I have to apologize if this critique ends up reading very much like my review of “Deepwater Horizon,” but, as it turns out, the same approach that Berg and co. used for that film ends up being what makes “Patriots Day” just as successful. The first act of the film is similarly used to give us some time to spend with the characters that we will be following through these terrible events, including Tommy Doyle, his wife Carol (Michelle Monaghan), Commissioner Ed Davis, Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese (J.K. Simmons), and Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), a young student who becomes a hostage. By giving us this time to get to know the characters, we are able to form that all-important emotional connection with them, a connection that grows even stronger as we see their fierce commitment to helping the victims, and subsequently to bringing those responsible to justice.
On top of that, this is simply an incredibly compelling and emotional story. It was a horrible event that brought out the best in the city of Boston, from the police force to the citizens who wanted to help in whatever way they could. It follows the events very closely as they actually happened, but that doesn’t make the film any less engrossing as you see it play out. The chaos of the incident is captured marvelously, putting you right there in the middle of the tragedy as police and rescue services scramble to control the situation. Even as we head into the detailed investigation, it becomes no less spellbinding than the incredible action sequence that erupts when the suspects inevitably become cornered by the police.
Peter Berg is to be commended quite strongly here for his outstanding “you are there” approach to the material, again, which is very similar to how he approached the disaster aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. He treats his real-life characters with the utmost respect, fleshing them out, and then doing great justice to the events by showing us just how it happened that week in April 2013. He may have been slipping a little with his bland pair of war flicks, but with his two latest projects, he has shown us that he is a director to be reckoned with, and one that we should be keeping a closer eye on in the future.
“Patriots Day” is a thrilling telling of these events, brought to life by a wonderful cast that includes Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, and Michelle Monaghan. The screenplay (co-written by Berg, Matt Cook, and Joshua Zetumer) lays out the details perfectly, structuring these two hours just right so that we know where all of the major players were before, during, and after the tragedy, and what role they played in stopping these terrorists from hurting anyone else. It was indeed a terrible tragedy, but in the end, it became a symbol for how so much good could come from something so terrible, and that’s exactly what Berg’s film celebrates: the undying and unwavering human spirit that stands indomitable during the worst of times.
“Patriots Day” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. The picture quality remains beautifully sharp and clear throughout the 133-minute runtime, perfectly capturing all of the hard work that went into recreating these tragic, and subsequently uplifting, events. The DTS:X audio is marvelous as well, giving you the dialogue, sound effects, and score in fantastic quality. Overall, the film looks and sounds great, ensuring an unbeatable experience.
Boston Strong: True Stories of Courage (22 Minutes): A series of three featurettes that tell the stories of some of the people who lived through the events.
The Boston Bond: Recounting the Tale (22 Minutes): An excellent looks behind the scenes at the making of the film, told through interviews with the cast and crew.
The Real Patriots: The Local Heroes’ Stories (20 Minutes): Another featurette that explores the stories of some of the major players in the events.
The Cast Remembers (6 Minutes): Just as the title implies, this is a featurette in which the cast recalls where they were when they heard about the bombing.
Actors Meet Real-Life Counterparts (18 Minutes): Two featurettes in which John Goodman and Jimmy O. Yang meet the real-life people they play in the film.
Researching the Day (11 Minutes): A fascinating featurette that discusses the extensive research that went into the film to make sure it was done right.
Peter Berg’s “Patriots Day” is a thrilling telling of a tragic and uplifting event, brought marvelously to life through an excellent cast, skilled direction, and a well-structured script that takes the time to flesh out its characters. The film is, above all, respectful of those who lived through the bombing and the subsequent investigation, telling the events just as they happened and showing us the power of the human spirit when it is put to the ultimate test, leaving us with an experience that is ultimately engrossing and emotionally powerful.