Film Review: ‘Patriots Day’ Is a Poignant and Affecting Portrait of a National Tragedy

Peter Berg knows the power of suspense, but even more than that, he knows the virtue of the human spirit, as is demonstrated by his work in “Patriots Day.” In a year that has already included an exhilarating demonstration with “Deepwater Horizon,” Berg has found his niche and comfort zone within filmmaking. Compelling and sobering, the film pays an homage to not only the great city of Boston and its victims, but to law enforcement officials everywhere. It’s an upsetting and uncomfortable experience but lingers with its gripping storytelling quality. It very well may be Berg’s best film to date.

Closer to “United 93” than “World Trade Center” in terms of high-profile national tragedies on the big screen, “Patriots Day” packs a wallop of emotion, bringing to light details that the average citizen may not have been aware of during the events. Berg’s attention to detail, especially in the narrative cohesion and editing is the film’s supreme achievement. He recreates the attacks of this harrowing chronicle in American history, utilizing existing footage, only scarcely giving us hints of Hollywood in the production. The film is much more difficult to recommend to the average movie-goer for a casual Friday date night, but it is sure to start some much needed conversations that should be happening daily about the human spirit.

“Patriots Day” is an account of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis’ actions in the events leading up to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists behind it.

What Berg does extremely well is assemble a stellar ensemble cast, giving everyone their own assignment, each operating at their very best. With Mark Wahlberg in the lead role as Sgt. Tommy Saunders, he lifts the jarring presence of himself that was littered throughout “Lone Survivor.” He manages to convey the hurt and pain of a city in one scene, and then be the beacon of hope and endurance the next. It’s his best performance since his Oscar-nominated work in “The Departed.”

Patriots DayCo-stars Kevin Bacon and John Goodman, both grossly ignored by the Academy for their entire careers, are both champions of their craft, unrivaled by their dedication to bringing these true men to life.

Playing the villain of a movie can be challenging. Playing the real-life person who committed one of the most vile acts of terrorism seen on our soil in recent memory is another hurdle on its own.

Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze as as Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev deliver immaculate work that stands toe-to-toe with some of the great supporting performances of 2016. They tap not only into evil as seen by the acts of the day, but by the vanity and hatred of motivation that drove these brothers to not only act but plan to continue their reign. They’re also key examples of why we are in desperate need of a casting Oscar at the moment, because the sheer imagery of them both in comparison to the real individuals is staggering.

Most of the time, when critics name an MVP in a film, it goes to an actor or the director. In “Patriots Day,” film editors Gabriel Fleming and Colby Parker, Jr. rise to their professions with respect and excellence. Cutting together heart-stopping action sequences littered with emotionally resonate beats, the team just hits a home run. That’s also thanks to the talented sound team, who partnered with Oscar-winning composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to blend the two elements beautifully.

The main flaw in “Patriots Day” is the film not quite knowing when it has its audience. With a collage of interviews with real-life survivors following the end of the film, it makes a strange shift from narrative feature to an almost documentary-like structure that just feels misplaced.

Patriots Day” has lots to celebrate. An unblemished ensemble, partnered with a near perfect crafts team, makes for a pure sentimental outing at the movies.

“Patriots Day” is distributed by CBS Films and opens in theaters on Wednesday, Dec. 21.

GRADE: (★★★½)