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Patriot's Day movie review: Works as a tribute to Boston, fails as cinema

Ranjan Crasta | Updated on: 3 March 2017, 17:12 IST

Two years ago, the celebratory atmosphere at the Boston Marathon finish line was violently ended as two bombs went off. Lives and limbs were lost in the carnage and the city of Boston came to a grinding halt. What followed was days-long manhunt to apprehend those responsible, the Tsarnaev brothers.

Patriot's Day is a re-telling of the events surrounding the bombing, beginning hours before the marathon, and ending with the eventual capture of Dzhokar Tsarnaev. With a star-laden cast, including Mark Wahlberg, J.K. Simmons, John Goodman, Michelle Monaghan and Kevin Bacon, the film definitely has its heart in the right place.

However, despite this, one leaves the theatre with the feeling that the movie doesn't quite do justice to the harrowing events of that fateful week, nor does it entertain at the cost of that.

Patriot's Day(s)

To begin with, the movie is just over two-hours-long. Now, the story behind the Boston Marathon bombings is genuinely riveting, so the long run time shouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, but in the case of Patriot's Day, it is.

While Patriot's Day has plenty to draw on – from the motives of the Tsarnaev brothers, to the resilience of Boston, the movie's focus seems to be on all the wrong things for large periods of time. And the reason for this seems to be lead actor and producer Mark Wahlberg.

As a born and bred resident of Boston, the Boston Marathon bombings is understandably a subject that hits close to Wahlberg's heart. The movie is, without a doubt, Wahlberg's tribute to the city he grew up in. However, as a result of this, the movie frequently chooses to play to the sentiments of the people of Boston rather than its actual audience.

This is seen right from the beginning, as the movie meanders for a good 30 minutes before anything that truly furthers the plot actually takes place. Rather than cutting to the story, and keeping the audience engaged, the movie spends time establishing Boston's people, places and institutions. Wahlberg could explain this away by claiming he was trying to establish the human impact of the bombings, there's no debating that it was still far too drawn out.

As a result of this, when the actual plot begins to unfold, it comes as more of a relief from the preceding lull rather than gripping in its own right.

The rest of the movie is also periodically interspersed with random moments of Boston pride. While these are occasionally heartwarming, they are mostly just corny.

The Tsarnaev brothers

Another issue the movie has is its lack of real interest in the Tsarnaev brothers, who are extremely fascinating on their own. For starters, for Islamic terrorists, the two brothers aren't your usual suspects.

They aren't from the middle east. In fact, Dzhokar, the younger of the two, was for the most part a fairly run of the mill pot-smoking University student, with no outward signs of radicalisation prior to the attack.

The enigmatic nature of the Tsarnaev's is largely ignored, reducing them to stereotypical jihadis.

As such, the movie would have been far more interesting had it spent more time establishing the motivations of the Tsarnaev brothers and the conflict between the more radical Tamerlan and the more westernised Dzhokar. However, while the movie spends plenty of time showcasing unnecessary background of bit-part characters, the treatment of the Tsarnaev brothers themselves is very reductive.

It begins with them watching ISIS videos, and from there on out only focuses on their immediate actions. Yes, the fact that Dzhokar also has a very mainstream American life is alluded to, but only briefly. Tamerlan's wife, Katherine, also receives the same treatment.

While the movie is more of a celebration of Boston's police and people, some more emphasis on the Tsarnaev's would have only enhanced the triumph of the good guys.

Better as a documentary

Patriot's Day does its best to not be unnecessarily sensationalist, and remain true to the actual events surrounding the bombings. As such, one is left wondering whether the movie would have been far more compelling as a documentary instead.

The movie could have avoided all of its failings had it gone the documentary route instead.

While the star actors acquit themselves admirably, they only distract from the actual events, unintentionally doing a disservice to the story. The need to pander to movie audiences also means the movie has to throw in some supremely cheesy dialogues about life, loss, the inability to have babies and whatnot. All of this could have been avoided if Wahlberg had opted to make a documentary instead.

This feeling is further cemented by the movie's end, where the actual people portrayed in the movie speak briefly about what they went through. While it is only a few minutes long, it is more insightful and has a far greater emotional impact than the two hours that preceded it. In fact, it redeems the movie more than the movie perhaps deserves.

Should you watch it?

Oh, absolutely. Patriot's Day, for all its faults, is still a movie worth seeing. It just isn't a movie that you absolutely must see this weekend, especially with far better ones like Logan, Split and Hidden Figures running in theatres.

As a fairly accurate re-telling of a true story, it's eye-opening and interesting at the very least, with decent performances across the board. Sure, you may be bored for stretches of the movie, but the plot itself is still interesting enough to keep you invested.

Rating: 2.5/5

First published: 3 March 2017, 17:13 IST