Patriots Day

25/02/17

Oh, that missing apostrophe! It’s threatening to derail my review; it just looks like a mistake and I’m itching to add it. Why have they left it out, I wonder? It must be a deliberate choice (there are enough people involved in the making of a film to rule out simple ignorance, and it is included in the captions telling us when and where events take place). A design issue, maybe? Whatever, it’s annoying, and it’s distracting me.

Which is a shame, because this is actually a very good movie, addressing issues far more important than errant punctuation. It’s a docudrama, detailing the police response to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, which killed three people and injured hundreds more. Mark Wahlberg is the ideal actor for the role of ‘everycop’ Tommy Saunders: he’s convincingly ordinary, driven by a mixture of ideals and selfishness, a flawed and sometimes self-destructive individual. The bombing tests him – and he comes up trumps. When it matters, he – and Boston – have what it takes.

Really, this is a film about humanity. We are introduced to all the main players – victims, police officers and terrorists alike –  in their domestic settings, so that we see what drives them and what they have to lose. Brothers Dzokhar (Alex Wolff) and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze) are depicted as nihilistic individuals, more akin to school-shooters than organised terrorists. Their affiliations are only to each other; they’ve self-radicalised, spurred each other on, building their bombs in Tamerlan’s kitchen, while his daughter plays in full view of them. Dzokhar’s childishness is especially poignant: he’s a little boy, despite his nineteen years. He whines and whinges at his older brother: I want to hold the gun. I want to drive the car. He’s a brat, whose teenage rebellion has been warped – and made him dangerous. He’s only a little bit different from his stoner friends, but that small difference is everything. It makes me wonder how he might have been saved.

But the heroes here are the police and FBI, working painstakingly to catch the bombers before they kill anyone else: reportedly, they’re on their way to New York to wreak more havoc there. The processes are made explicit in a way I haven’t seen before: it’s all logic and collation, sifting through potential evidence. The tension wracks up unbearably, even though the story is familiar, and the outcome is well-known. It’s the personal stuff that generates the suspense: will these people come out of this okay?

During her police interview, Tamerlan’s wife, Katherine (Melissa Benoist) remains tight-lipped, saying little. She does, however, contend that “worse things happen in Syria every day.” The tragedy is that she’s right. And goodness knows how those people cope, because this – one bombing, one day – is awful, and will have a profound impact on Boston’s population for many years to come. It’s a terrible excuse, of course: only a twisted logic justifies one atrocity by referring to another. But it should be enough to make us care, to make us want to help those for whom such events are devastatingly commonplace.

Writer/director Peter Berg maximises the impact by incorporating genuine CCTV and news footage into the mix, giving his film a realism and authenticity that makes it hit home.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield

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