There’s a scene in Patriots Day where Veronica (Khandi Alexander, the only scene she’s in for the length of the movie) from the High-Value Interrogation Group, is interrogating Katherine Russell (Melissa Benoist), wife of terrorist Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze), who along with younger brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff) set off bombs in Boston and has already had a deadly skirmish with the Boston and Watertown cops. Veronica walks into the interrogation room, hijab respectfully in place, and softly, almost sympathetically asks Katherine, “Are there more bombs?” No response. She repeats, “Are there more bombs?” No response again. When she asks the question for the third time, Alexander’s voice and expression harden like instantaneously vulcanizing rubber, without warning or dramatics, the inflection in her voice a wallop at a steady even-toned volume.
That scene, along with most of the movie, hits your senses, leaving you wide-eyed in horror and tension. Accompanied by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s jaggedly insistent, precariously tense, and at times seemingly semi-off-key background score, the movie throbs with tight tensile drama and thrills. Director Peter Berg, after Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, once again cranks out a true story about Americans put in harm’s way, and their sinewy, courageous fight back against all odds. And yet, once again, at a subcutaneous level, his effort doesn’t seem all jingoistic or a full-blooded patriotic portrait. This is mostly because what the characters in Patriots Day face is something that almost all the world citizens have now faced at some degree of separation or the other.
Based on the Boston Marathon bombings of April 15, 2013, the movie tightly winds together disparate characters whose lives unavoidably and horribly collide in a tryst with terror at the finishing line of the race at 2:49 PM. Director Berg is unflinching in his portrayal of the aftermath, and you’re pushed into the scene that’s all severed limbs, gaping wounds, and blood on the street. None of this is gratuitous even as Tobias A. Schliessler’s breathless cinematography leaves you breathless and shocked, if not paralyzed. And this effective knitting-of-scenes continues from hereon right until the very end, the director mopping off emotions of forever-scarred families even as he covers the brisk and sometimes faltering and faulty investigations that throws in the Boston PD’s lot with the FBI. Equally tense is the shootout scene between the brothers and the cops, the sound design by Dror Mohar and Piero Mura making you want to duck and hide, whilst you look on with uncontrolled angst, thrown right amidst the ricocheting action. The suspense is unbearable in the preceding scenes when the terrorists carjack Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), your mind pulsing in parallel, wondering about what the real-life Meng would have gone through, the tension adjuvant with the drama for survival.
Apart from the superbly choreographed action sequences, Berg also orchestrates some emotionally hard-hitting moments – you can’t help but swallow when he long-shoots a cop standing guard over a lone, white-sheet covered body of an eight-year old amid the devastation. Mark Wahlberg, playing Police Sergeant Tommy Saunders, has an unnecessary opening sequence, but once he’s placed in the marathon scene, he’s all spiffed up and ready for action. He’s also extremely believable in his meltdown scene after he reaches home to his wife (played by Michelle Monaghan), his adrenaline drained and his backup cylinders giving way to a broken-down, human reaction. Kevin Bacon as FBI Agent Richard DesLauriers is as nifty and efficient as the suits he wears. John Goodman plays a brusque Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, and his cuss-filled banter with Wahlberg is as natural as they come, as is his confrontation with Bacon. J.K. Simmons lends a quiet solidness and stolidness in his turn as Watertown Police Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese.
There’s other real-life survivors you can’t help but marvel at – Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky (played by Christopher O’Shea and Rachel Brosnahan) – and when, at the end, you see them hugging each other at yet another Boston Marathon, you realize just how enduring and inspiring the human spirit and love can be, and that truly chokes you up. You also realize with a sinking feeling that an even more shattering terrorist attack took place in Mumbai beginning 26 November, 2008, and there are so many stories that are yet to be told. Of bravery and destruction, of heartbreak and hope, of terror and survival, of helplessness and hope, of harrowing havoc and heroism from the most common of all folks. And your heart sinks further when you remember what a terrible cinematic adventure director Ram Gopal Varma undertook and sank it all with his The Attacks of 26/11.
Patriots Day is rated A (Restricted to adults). There’s disturbing images and violence.
Director Peter Berg Running Time 2h 13 min
Writers Peter Berg, Matt Cook, Joshua Zetumer
Stars Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons
Genres Crime, Drama, History
Watch the trailer of Patriots Day here: