PATRIOTS DAY (Movie Review)

*** out of ****
Rated R
(for violence, realistically graphic injury images, strong language throughout, an some drug use)
Released:  December 25, 2016 limited; January 13, 2017 wide
Runtime: 133 minutes
Director: Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, Alex Wolff, Them Melikidze, Michelle Monaghan, J.K. Simmons, Michael Beach

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Completing their “American Hero” trilogy, director Peter Berg and actor/producer Mark Wahlberg dramatize the events of the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon bombing to riveting effect in Patriots Day.

It feels less personal and more procedural than their first two collaboration – BP Oil spill disaster Deepwater Horizon and Afghan terror war solider tale Lone Survivor – but it stands as a fitting final tribute to blue collar Everyman heroics that binds this thematically-united triptych series, despite the muted emotional impact. Patriots Day is a film to admire about people to respect.

The structure is very conventional from the start, with opening scenes introducing a variety of loving familial bonds that will be tested by terror, injury, death, and courage on that ill-fated day. But once the homemade bombs start blasting at the finish line, Berg’s movie delivers a raw intensity through gritty, bloody, chaotic naturalism. Graphic and occasionally gory, it’s not for the faint or queasy of heart.

Wahlberg’s Sgt. Tommy Saunders is a fictional composite of several people (some who asked not to be depicted), but most others (from law enforcement to injured bystanders) were real-life players in this days-long pursuit of brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, two self-radicalized Islamic extremists.

Most viewers (myself included) likely enter with a basic working knowledge of the initial attack and how the manhunt resolved, but are vague on details in-between. Berg’s film (which he also co-wrote) gets into the details of the in-between, including guerrilla residential warfare on an unexpected scale, the kind you generally only see in movies but actually happened here.

The move documents more than it delves, making for an efficient and educational account that doesn’t exploit the events or the people involved. The script and dialogue stay at a straightforward, episodic TV level, at times even simplistic, but the reductionist approach ends up being an overall strength, particularly as it’s used for clarity, as well as situational nuance, not jingoistic grandstanding.

The cast is as solid and reliable as the filmmaking, and the sense of multicultural unity should play well to all audiences, conservative or liberal, even as Berg never sidesteps the politically-sensitive facts that would be irresponsible to marginalize. We never get a sense that Berg’s passion or vision is as invested in this film as it was his previous two with Wahlberg, but no one can question his visceral integrity, or an appropriately humble patriotism.

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