Patriots Day

Stronger

11/12/17

This film makes an interesting companion piece to Patriots Day, in that both movies cover the same event – the bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon. But where Peter Berg’s offering concentrates on the hunt for the perpetrators of the crime, Stonger opts to focus on one of the bombing’s victims: twenty six year old Jeff Bauman, who had the misfortune to be standing too close to the rucksack that held one of the homemade explosive devices.

When we first encounter him, just days before the bombing, Jeff (Jake Gyllenhaal) has recently split from his girlfriend, Erin (Tatiana Maslany) and is doing everything he can to encourage her to come back to him. When he hears that she is planning to run the Boston Marathon, he dutifully turns up on the day carrying a homemade placard to show his support… and moments later, loses both his legs in the bomb blast. When Erin spots his blood-spattered face on a TV report, she hurries to the hospital, where Jeff’s dysfunctional family, headed by his mother, Patty (an almost unrecognisable Miranda Richardson) are already gathered, waiting for him to come back to consciousness. Erin finds herself inexorably drawn into being his carer/companion, even moving into the little apartment that he shares with his mother – but as his long, slow recovery begins, it’s apparent that Jeff still has a lot of issues to come to terms with; and it doesn’t help that the people of Boston constantly  want to celebrate him as a homegrown hero…

David Gordon Green’s film expertly walks a perilous tightrope. This powerfully affecting story could so easily have descended into pure corn, but the fact that it doesn’t is only one of its many strengths. The script (by John Pollono, based on Jeff Bauman’s book), refuses to turn its lead character into the hero figure that the people of Boston so evidently want him to be. There’s no rose-tinted glasses here. Jeff is presented as a feckless, often selfish individual, with a self-destructive personality – and a similar ‘warts-and-all’ approach is taken with the various family members who weigh in to lend  their support with all the finesse of a herd of stampeding elephants.

Gyllenhall’s performance is superbly affecting (here’s yet another movie which I viewed mostly through a fog of cascading tears), while anyone who has watched her assay multiple roles in Orphan Black will know what to expect from the very talented Maslany. Miranda Richardson’s turn as the boozy, hapless Patty is also beautifully judged. Suffice to say that the various mutterings about the film’s Oscar potential may not be entirely misplaced. But who knows? Oscar can be a notoriously fickle beast.

Stronger is ultimately a film about the process of healing. I loved its honesty and passion and though it keeps its most shocking images for later on in the proceedings, when they do arrive, in a series of brilliantly edited flashbacks, it doesn’t hold back.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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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