Patriots Day


            This movie really brings it all back:  the 2013 bombing at the finish line of The Boston Marathon.  Three dead, scores injured, some severely, including amputations.  All because two brothers decided they would carry out their own private jihad on innocent civilians.

            Of course we all know what happened.  But still, this film manages to create suspense in the anticipation, as we carefully follow the backstories of some of the participants.  What seems like an otherwise ordinary day suddenly turns deadly, as two bombs explode in the crowd of spectators.  Of course there is chaos and confusion as everybody tries to figure out what's happening, and it's immediately evident that there are people wounded and bleeding, lying on the street.

            Of course there were many police, fire, paramedic, and other rescue personnel involved, but the film attempts to simply things by constructing a kind of composite superhero, Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg).  He's apparently assigned to guard duty as a kind of disciplinary procedure for some unspecified infraction, so he's made out to be overqualified as a mere security officer.  So he springs into action after the explosions, directing the medical personnel and co-ordinating the police activity until the bigwigs arrive, but even then they need his local knowledge of the environs to scan through the footage of all the surveillance cameras in the area.  Finally, they find their first clue:  a young man in a backwards white hat who's looking away from the explosion when everyone else is looking toward it.  They backtrack his path to the crime scene, where they eventually find him standing next to another man, and they appear to know each other.  Now it's face recognition searches and asking the public for help in identifying the men, who are “people of interest” in the bombing.

            Meanwhile, we follow the Chechen-American Tsarnaev brothers, Tamerlan (played by Themo Melikidze) and Dzhokhar (played by Alex Wolff), as they first go home to Tamarlan's wife, Katherine Russell (Melissa Benoist) and their young daughter, sitting on the sofa watching the television aftermath of their homemade bombs.  When it becomes clear that the authorities might be on to them, they decide they need to hurry to New York to carry out the next phase of their random bombing attacks, but now they start acting like dumb, inexperienced ordinary criminals.  They hijack a car with a guy in it, but while stopping at a convenience store for snacks, they let the hostage get away, who immediately goes to the authorities with a clear description of both the perpetrators and his stolen automobile (which just happens to have a tracking device).  The brothers now decide they need another gun, and try to take one away from an M.I.T. Campus cop, but wind up shooting him without even getting his gun from him, and while wandering through Watertown, Mass., they are spotted and get caught in a gunfight with the local police, who are so determined that they even withstand some bombs thrown at them by the now-desperate brothers.  Tamaran is killed in the melee, and briefly, Dzohokhar gets away, but eventually winds up trying to hide in somebody's backyard boat, where he is found, arrested, and brought alive into custody, much to the relief of all of Boston, which had undergone the rare imposition of martial law during the extraordinary manhunt.

            Yes, we are impressed with the “Boston Strong” mentality of all the residents who unified in their solidarity, and the outpouring of support both for the victims' families and for the many police, paramedics, hospital personnel, and FBI agents who teamed up in the aftermath.  There's even a curious theological discussion involving Wahlberg's character about how evil is out there, and Satan spreads the hate, but what conquers it is love.  Be prepared for strong, emotional scenes of the carnage, the curiously nonprofessional behavior of the criminals, the inclusion of the remarkable non-co-operation of Dzhokhar's college friends, the frustrating defiance of Tamerlan's wife when she is questioned, and the heartwarming clips from the actual victims.  It's the kind of movie where people cheer at the end.  But then we leave the theater remembering that the same kind of thing could still happen anywhere, anytime, to anybody.  And we're all a little more somber at that realization.

Questions For Discussion:

1)                  Do you think these types of tragedies are preventable?  If so, how?

2)                  Do you feel we are currently “at war” with terrorism?  If so, who are our enemies?

3)                  Dzhokhar Tsarnaev received the death sentence.  Do you agree?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association