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A 2017 Movie Review: Patriots Day

Updated on January 18, 2017
Rafini profile image

Pop culture enthusiast and poet; Writer of non-fiction, personal essays and memoir.

Patriots Day - The Film

An intentionally misleading advertisement?
An intentionally misleading advertisement?

Based on Real Events

In Patriots Day, released late December 2016 from director Peter Berg, the world relives the truthfully told tragic events surrounding the Boston Marathon of April, 2013. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Monaghan, and J.K. Simmons, this film delivers an emotional trauma that can only be compared to having witnessed the tragedy on live television, the first time around. Written by Peter Berg, Matt Cook, Joshua Zetumer, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson, Patriots Day does an exceptional job of telling a true story without exploiting the real-life victims.

An Annual Event in Boston

The plot of Patriots Day centers around the Massachusetts state holiday commemorating the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, and is the day the Boston Marathon is held every year. While the action of the film centers on the events leading up to the massive manhunt and eventual lockdown of Boston that brought about the death of one bomber and the capture of another, the emotional focus of the film relies, with great effect, on the absolute surprise of two explosions near the marathon’s finish line without warning. As a viewer who knew what was coming, but not when or where, the explosion sequences were surprisingly nerve wracking and reminded me of when I’d watched the actual events unfold, safe and sound at home in another state halfway across the country, on national television.

The Boston Marathon Bombing

The Boston Marathon bombing occurred on Patriots Day, a Massachusetts holiday
The Boston Marathon bombing occurred on Patriots Day, a Massachusetts holiday

An Onslaught of Apparently Unrelated Characters and Scenes

As the film began I couldn’t help wondering what it would be about. I was sure I hadn’t seen any previews for it, therefore felt fairly confident it would be an action flick or at least taking place during a war. Neither were my first choice in seeing a movie, but since going to the theater that day had been a split-second decision, I accepted what was available. With a title like Patriots Day, I had expected the action to take place during the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, or the Civil War, and definitely somewhere in New England. But when the film started, I had the odd feeling I was watching an episode of NYPD Blue, CSI or Law & Order. I waited, and waited, for the title screen to appear telling me the name of the film I was there to see or at least an ongoing montage type list of actors. Instead what I saw were totally unrelated images of new characters in new settings performing a variety of activities. Some were identified by name or title, others not at all. At first I was unsure the movie had actually begun. Until there was a scene with two men creating a homemade bomb immediately following scenes cementing in my mind, again, the Boston Marathon location.

What Do You Think?

Is it okay to make a movie about real traumatic events so soon after they happen?

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Nobody Walked Out

I was immediately horrified that anyone could make a film based on this national tragedy, to exploit the needless pain and suffering of the numerous victims was, to me, unconscionable. How on earth was I ever going to reconcile myself with paying to see this movie that pushed so hard against my values of decency? As I pondered the true meaning behind my attendance, I took a quick glance around the audience to see whether anyone one else was revealing a similar repulsion to mine. In the darkened theater, I couldn’t tell. The only thing I know for sure is, nobody stood up to walk out.

Patriots Day Official Trailer

Patriots Day - The Boston Marathon Bombing

Suddenly, I Was Paying Attention

Quickly deciding maybe I should give this movie a chance, I then wondered what it would be like to watch a film where I already knew what was going to happen. It wasn’t like watching a film I’d seen before, or like watching a film based on a book I’d read. It wasn’t even like watching any of the other films I’d seen that were based on real life situations. Because this time, not only had I been alive when the bombing had occurred, but I’d also been kept very well informed by the media every step of the way during the citywide manhunt and lockdown. I don’t really watch much television anymore, watch the news even less, and, quite simply, do not understand global politics on any scale whatsoever. But when an act of terrorism (or natural disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina) destroys a comfortable feeling of national safety, I pay attention. It was with this mindset that I watched the chronological events of the Patriots Day Boston Marathon, 2013, as they happened less than four years ago.

Before the Explosion

Runners safely crossing the finish line
Runners safely crossing the finish line

Patriots Day on Blu-Ray

Watching the News

The events of April, 2013, were very well publicized. I would turn on the TV every morning when I got up, at 3:00 am, for updates. I would check in again when I got home by 7:00, and again when I came home after classes on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. I watched the news from 5:00 pm until 7:00 pm, when I went to bed. I was astounded at the amount of new information being revealed on what seemed a constant basis. I wondered, back then in 2013, why all events of this magnitude weren’t handled the same.

The Beginning of Triumph

Odd how time has a way of erasing what seems to be insignificant details. I realized, as I watched the film, that I had forgotten the reported number of cellphones that had been confiscated, and the number of emails the FBI had received with photos and videos of the crime scene before it became a crime scene. Over 12,000, according to the movie. Within minutes of requesting them. I’d had no idea, back in 2013, how big of a team worked on resolving this case. All I had known, then, was that it felt like nobody in Boston was going to rest until the bombers were caught. While watching the movie, I could comprehend first-hand the magnitude of the work done to bring these two criminals to justice.


Dun Meng escapes the bombers.
Dun Meng escapes the bombers.

A Beautiful Balancing Act

Watching Patriots Day was a very emotional experience. More so than I’d thought it was going to be. I’d had to wipe my eyes, more than once or twice, and I heard at least one neighbor sniffling before blowing their nose. I also noticed I wasn’t the only one who cheered when Dun Meng escaped the bombers. People to my left were sitting at the edge of their seats, and when the film ended nobody rushed to leave. Not because they desperately had to communicate with their neighbor or companion, but because, like me, I'm sure they’d needed to process what they’d just seen. As the director of this film, Berg showcased the trauma with delicate fingers while emphasizing the brutal nature of Boston’s situation with necessary roughness. It was this beautiful balancing act in the final third of the movie which made me glad I’d arbitrarily chosen to see this film.

After the Explosion

Our heroes have families, and are also deeply affected by traumatic events
Our heroes have families, and are also deeply affected by traumatic events

I Had to Ask, Why?

After arriving home last night, I immediately wrote out my initial reaction to the film, and published it on Niume. I had to. Because I felt traumatized about what I’d just seen, as if I’d just seen it for the first time. As if I’d never heard of or known about the Boston Marathon bombing. It occurred to me, after leaving the theater, that the missing title sequence and list of actors was deliberate. I hadn’t missed it by being oblivious. I had missed it because it hadn’t been there, and it hadn’t been there because, just like back then in the immediate aftermath of April 2013, the plot unraveling before our eyes was so unexpected that any forewarning would have altered the experience in such a way that the impact would not have existed as it does now. Currently I am considering this a sleeper film, as it has yet to earn anywhere near half its estimated $45,000,000 budget. I understand not wanting to heavily advertise this film, and further traumatize the victims, but at the same time I have to wonder whether this approach will serve the purpose of the film. Why did Berg make this film? What does he stand to get out of it? I, for one, do not know. However, I highly recommend watching this film. I gave it ten out of ten stars. Because I feel Patriots Day is a must-see film.

© 2017 Rafini


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