Monday, 20 February 2017

Patriots Day (2017) - Movie Review

Since taking the art of cinema as seriously as I do nowadays, I have gained a greater appreciation for the films that I watch. Of the many boons that I consider myself gaining because of this, the one I hold closest to me is how I now attach specific names to features. Actors, directors and screenwriters behind the films I look at here have gained greater meaning to me and have led me to some works that I wouldn’t have batted an eye at beforehand. For example: "You mean the guy who made Back To The Future and Forrest Gump also made The Walk? Man, I gotta check this out!" That’s a statement that would never cross my lips a few short years ago, and I always get a bit of a kick from linking films together through the people involved in social situations.

However, there’s a flipside to that that not only links bad films to particular people, but also because it has made me more aware of the specific styles employed by most directors. In terms of today’s film, it’s what I’ve noticed about director/co-writer Peter Berg’s more recent filmography… and how his attachment to it didn’t exactly have me riveted to check it out. Why is this? Well, let’s get started and I’ll hopefully be able to explain why.

The plot: Police sergeant Tommy (Mark Wahlberg) heads out to just another day at work, doing security work for a local marathon going on in his home of Boston. However, things soon turn horrifying as brothers Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff) and Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) set off a series of homemade explosives near the track and send the city into a state of abject terror. As paramedics do their best to aid those injured by the blasts, and the authorities try to track down those responsible, one of the biggest manhunts in recent memory is about to take place.

This is a solid-as-hell cast, full of people that I will get tired of seeing on the big screen. Thankfully, everyone here brings their A-game. Wahlberg continues his fruitful connection with Berg and brings a very welcome everyman presence to the film, forgiving the impression that the Ted films may have given him considering he’s from Boston himself. John Goodman and J.K. Simmons help flesh out the police higher-ups and they bring all the intensity their role in this setting would require, Kevin Bacon brings some learned clarity to his FBI special agent and Wolff and Melikidze provide the chills as our antagonists while keeping on this side of reality, with Melissa Benoist batting clean-up in a rather gut-wrenching scene. Honestly, the only real down point in the cast here is Michelle Monaghan as Tommy’s wife, and that’s only because she barely has a presence in the narrative.

The reason why I was rather hesitant about today’s film is down to how closely I’ve been following Peter Berg’s filmography of late. Both Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon were decent films, and continued to provide Wahlberg with stable foundations for good performances, but it’s difficult to overlook how similar both films are in their structure. Even if you don’t look as intently into films as those in our line of work, the three-act structure of most feature-length productions is well recognised and adhered to. Berg, at least with his most recent works, seems to stick to an even more basic two-act structure: All the setup in the first half, and all the payoff/drama in the second half. Credit where it’s due in that he makes it work as well as he did, but it did give the initial impression that this film would be much the same. Fortunately, this is not the case as Berg and his co-writers Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer stick to the more traditional structure here. Because of this, the film has a far smoother narrative, starting out with just an average day in Boston, leading to the marathon and the subsequent attacks and then the following investigation.

Even without his expected narrative style, Berg still keeps the same attention to detail as shown previously. Throughout the introduction and even the rest of the film, we see the lives of the people closely involved with the bombing and highlighting them as what they are: Everyday citizens. This extends to the bombers themselves, who are shown in their domestic life juxtaposed with their heinous actions to show that they are no less human than their victims. This down-to-earth approach with the characters also ends up manifesting in quite a few comedic breaks in the dialogue that, even considering the tragedy surrounding it, feels authentic. It’s that same brand of comedy that is found in most procedural dramas that is borne from a need for levity in dark times, especially if dealing with said dark times is your job description, and here it definitely rings true.

Given the current political climate concerning Islam, and the recorded motive behind the bombers’ actions, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a touch worried that this would add fuel to the fire. Thankfully, the only real agenda at work here is showing the strength of Boston working together to stop the people responsible. Time is taken out to call out the Tsarnaev brothers as extremists, even having a scene dedicated to ensuring that no undue paranoia is spread through the media concerning them as Muslims. On top of that, this film is apparently quite accurate to the story itself, right down to even using real-life surveillance footage intercut with the shots taken by Berg and co. Now, while it gets grizzly, it never enters the realms of exploitative and even the one glaring historical inaccuracy of the film, that being Wahlberg’s composite character, still has a purpose within the film as a representative of the city as a whole. And much like Sully, this film does a terrific job of showing humanity at its best when it comes to working together.

All in all, I am pleasantly surprised with this one. Eschewing the narrative style of his last two films, this sidesteps possible feelings of déjà vu to tell a story about how an entire city came together in a wake of a great tragedy. The acting is damn good from people you well expect to bring the goods, the writing keeps the humanity of all those involved well in mind and the direction keeps the tension good and tight to make the most out of the drama involved. But more than anything else, with how on-edge the world is right now in terms of Western-Muslim relations, we kind of need a film like this right now.

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