‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new film Patriots Day is a rousing, old-fashioned movie that builds to a slow, simmering boil. While not a documentary, it provides enough detail of a horrible Boston Marathon terrorist event and the follow-up to create an atmosphere clearly promoting not only the slogan “Boston Strong,” but also the idea of a country uniting to fight the horror of the bombing.
The film starts slowly, following Sgt. Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg), one of the few fictional characters in the film — a device used to help pull the film, one with many characters, together. Although a detective, he is assigned to be in uniform at the Boston Marathon (held on Patriots Day, which is April 15) as part of a penance for some sort of infringement.
Then we switch to Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese (J.K. Simmons), a real person, who has time for a quick bit of flirtation with his not-quite-awake wife as he leaves for work. And we see Todd Downes (Christopher O’Shea) and Jessica Kensky (Rachel Brosnahan), a loving young couple with their legs intertwined; three of those legs will be gone by the end of the day.
And there’s patrolman Sean Collier (Jake Picking) flirting with an MIT student. There’s Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), a young app designer. And, of course we get to see the Tsarnaev brothers, the older one, Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) and his kid brother Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff), playing with Tamerlin’s daughter as they pack up their bombs.
The tension builds as we watch the two terrorists plant the bombs. The police, there as good-natured witnesses to the race, become first responders. As one of the victims remembers: They raced to the scene of the bombs. Within a short time, the FBI, led by cool, capable Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) determine that the act was terrorism and take over.
Saunders keeps getting pulled in to the center of things as somehow he is the expert on the block where the bombing took place. In a taut scene, he describes the exact cameras that might have one of the terrorists on it. And the government gets the pictures, although they cannot identify who the men are.
The rest of the film is the chase to find and capture the two men. There are some harrowing episodes. The strongest involves their carjacking of young Dun Meng, forcing him to join them until a wild escape. His panicked evidence given to Saunders (who else?) provides a key clue leading to a major gun battle where Pugliese and a slew of cops manage to take down the older brother.
What makes the film really special is its attention to dozens of small details. Some are historical: Massachusetts’ governor makes decisions as do other politicians and leaders. We get to see how the system works. But it is the small emotional details that tear us apart. The body of an 8-year-old killed by the bomb must stay there for hours for the sake of the investigation, and we get to see the tough cop standing to protect him. When they take the body away, we see the officer on the verge of tears holding his salute. I actually heard sobs from others in the audience.
A wounded father, whose son has been pulled away for safety, is far more worried about his son than his own wounds. The scene where they are reunited is intensely moving. The reunion of Downes and Kensky, originally sent to different hospitals was also moving.
And there were scary scenes, the most powerful being the interrogation of Tamerlan’s American wife Katherine (Melissa Benoist), who is unwilling to give any information even though her own kitchen was used to make the bombs. She was scary.
The cast is excellent. Wahlberg, the only fictional major character, is a good everyman cop. Simmons is, as usual, really strong in his role. Yang is superb as the scared man who decides not to be a victim. Wolff, as the younger terrorist, comes across as a goofball, more interested in whether the sound system in Meng’s car can synch with his own music.
And at the end, we actually saw and heard from the real people involved. This is a very good film. It’s old-fashioned in that it promotes American values. I really liked it. All of us should see it.