Not everyone wants to watch a film about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Mainstream cinema is for escapism, and standing witness to a horrific event is just not the reason people spend whatever it is they spend these days to go to the cinema.
Unfortunately for Patriots Day, which is quite a fine film, this disinclination caused it to do very poorly at the box office: it earned a mere $44.3 million (to date) against a budget of $45 million, which officially makes it a financial failure, even as it ought to be praised for so grimly hewing to the truth.
Anchored by the stout Mark Wahlberg, who plays Sergeant Tommy Saunders, and by John Goodman as Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, the film follows the events leading up to – and the chase after – the two bombings that occurred just at as the first runners started to cross the finish line. Killing three people, maiming 16 (who lost their limbs) and injuring several hundred others, the bombing on the Patriot’s Day holiday was a nightmare for Boston, and precipitated a manhunt for the now infamous Tsarnaev brothers that shook the nation.
Patriots Day is aptly named: it is a film about the fortitude and the resilience of humanity in the face of the banality that can constitute evil. The portrayal of the real life characters who were injured, the gripping police procedural that follows, the terrible callousness of the Tsarnaev brothers as they shoot a police officer dead in his car when he doesn’t give up his gun, the car-jacking and subsequent escape of a terrified, young Chinese immigrant, Dun Meng (Jimmy O Yang), who then gives evidence crucial in capturing the brothers, are all here in precise detail.
The film is not fun viewing, but it is pretty essential if you want to understand how things work. This is a disciplined movie, with its nuts and bolts carefully in place to manufacture a clear picture of a blurry, horrendous day in American history.
Perhaps what sticks most in my memory are the scenes in the hijacked car, attested to by Meng, when Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff) is sulking with his older brother Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) because he has been given neither a gun nor been allowed to drive; he was 19 years old at the time. Equally searing is the gunfight in the Boston suburb of Watertown: a harrowing scene that documents the shootout from moment to moment with JK Simmons in a riveting performance as Jeffrey Pugliese, a Watertown police sergeant who goes head to head with Tamerlan just before he is killed.
There is a reason why there are no more films like Patriots Day; people just don’t have the stomach to watch them, this reviewer included. But, if you can grit your teeth and buckle down, you will not regret this film, which will teach you the essence of both bravery and cowardice.