The biggest question on the lips of most audience members going to see Patriots Day, a film which recounts the events surrounding the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, will surely be is it too soon, is it still too raw, for a picture to be made about that sad day? However, those concerned needn’t be, as the story has been put in the safe and capable hands of director Peter Berg, a filmmaker who has dealt with similar true life stories with his previous works such as Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon. When placed with his past work, however, this altogether thrilling and deeply powerful piece of cinema stands head and shoulders above the rest.
If anything, the small amount of time between the event and the film works in its favour. As a piece of recent history, the fact that I can remember watching the aftermath of the bombings play out on the news with a keen obsession, means there’s a personal connection with Patriots Day even before the film starts. But even though you may know the outcome and have those images of armed men surrounding a boat in a quiet suburban area stuck firmly in your mind, Berg goes into so much detail about all the various threads of the investigation that the story feels new and unpredictable.
That’s part of what makes Berg such a fantastic teller of these stories: the detail. He’s one of the few filmmakers that I can think of – Paul Greengrass being at the very top of the list – who manages to create a real authenticity with their films. Here, like his other productions, the director is meticulous in the way in which he presents the facts, constantly bringing us up to date with where we are, when we are and who we are with. In that sense, it’s virtually documentary-like, placing you right there in the middle of the manhunt.
But the director’s talent for bringing true stories to the big-screen goes much further than the constant factoids that pop up throughout. He has a light touch when it comes to dealing with the sensitive nature of the film, and understands his responsibilities to the real-life people and their families who form the characters of the piece. Putting personalities to the statistics, he honours those involved by ensuring that their characters are written with a three-dimensonality no matter how big or small a role they may play in events. It’s because of this investment that you have in the people featured, that Patriots Day is made all the more compelling and intense.
It should be said that there’s a surprising amount of levity dotted throughout as well, and I was taken aback at how myself and other members of the audience would often be caught laughing audibly. From this perspective, the fact that it manages to be intense, exciting, moving and humorous in equal measures means that, rather strangely, Patriots Day is a crowd-pleaser of a film.
The one big concern I had going in was the amount of flag-waving we might be subjected to, but Berg does a fantastic job of largely sidestepping the politics altogether. His representation of the two terrorists responsible for the bombings isn’t so much one of fundamentalism, but rather one of boredom, ignorance and frustration. Instead of focusing on what makes America great, it focuses on the basic compassion of humanity and the love that will ultimately win through in the end. The result is something extraordinarily beautiful that left me in floods of tears for long after the credits rolled. Go see it.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com