Patriots Day: An ode to law enforcement and repression
18 January 2017
In Patriots Day, director Peter Berg and actor Mark Wahlberg, in their third film together, set out to tell the story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Like their previous films, Lone Survivor (2013), about a Navy Seal team’s efforts to take down a Taliban leader in Afghanistan, and Deepwater Horizon (2016), about the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Patriots Day communicates what is essentially the official version of events.
As usual, Berg and Wahlberg ignore the broader social forces at work in the events they dramatize, remaining instead at the tabloid level of “human interest,” which drifts into a kind of right-wing populism. They continue to celebrate the police and the military.
As the film opens, it is the evening before the marathon. We are first introduced to police sergeant Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg), a fictional character. He is coming off suspension and, as one last punishment, is ordered to work crowd detail at the marathon’s finish line.
Also introduced are a number of characters, both civilian and police, based on real victims of the bombing or participants in the subsequent manhunt, whose lives will converge at the race. In Patriots Day their lives are perfectly happy, even idyllic. One can feel the manipulative hand of the filmmakers here. They are setting the audience up for a tear jerker. Indeed, for the first 20 minutes or so of the film one is just waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak.
Then comes the horrible violence of the event, sudden and devastating. Three people are killed, including 8-year-old Martin Richard. More than 200 are injured. We see severed limbs in the street, pools of blood. First…