Deepwater Horizon was a solid warm up for director Peter Berg in the fall of 2016, but Patriots Day was the real the hit he was going for. Working to portray an intense, real life situation without exploiting it, Berg carefully balances tragedy with heroics spread through a variety of characters simply doing their job. Minus some final minutes, this is a fictional film that provides a level of entertainment based out of horrific circumstances that does not succumb to too much showiness. With strong actors and a deft touch, Patriots Day is a winning look at how Boston held strong during a time of sadness. The film sadly didn’t connect too strongly with audiences, but surely the Blu-ray will help people discover this pretty solid docudrama.
The film is set in 2013 and depicts what happened during the time of the Boston Marathon bombing. A quick setup leads us to these events, but rather than dwell specifically on the terrorist act, the film moves to the subsequent days where a manhunt was led to find those responsible. We then see a variety of angles on the event, including that of the bombers involved.
Mixing in real characters with a few fictitious depictions, Mark Wahlberg is basically the star as Boston PD Sergeant Tommy Saunders. The character is a composite of several Boston PD officers involved in the event that unfolds. It helps in an unexpected way, as Wahlberg, similar to his stellar work in ‘Deepwater’, manages to underplay the qualities that generally have him stand out in a cast. He plays up a low-key presence that depicts him as vulnerable and rightfully in search of justice by doing his job, along with the other actors involved.
Joining Wahlberg in the cast, Berg’s film also features John Goodman as Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, J.K. Simmons as Watertown Police Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese and Kevin Bacon as FBI Agent Richard DesLauriers. These are just a few of the film’s key characters and what helps is watching these big names rarely feel more important than many of the other actors scattered throughout this feature. Jimmy O. Yang, for example, plays a Chinese immigrant who was kidnapped by the by the bombers and gets his own arc to complement the tense situation later put before him.
The film is full of mini-arcs for the various characters involved. We get some perspective on some of the victims involved in the bombing. Some key relationships are set up and paid off later on, as the film progresses. You also have the bombers, as mentioned. Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze provide strong work in this regard, as the film is wise to only delve so far into their motivations and holds that perspective firmly on their minds, without demonizing whatever connections they feel they have. Given how I felt Berg mishandled certain aspects of Lone Survivor, it is quite interesting to see what he’s pulled off here.
That in mind, the most interesting part of Lone Survivor was watching the SEALs debate what options they had involving some captured goat farmers, knowing the risk of the outside world learning of their actions through the media. Patriots Day has Bacon’s character dealing with this as well. As the manhunt and investigation ensue, the film does not shy away from the difficulty in not only discovering the facts based on various clues but deciding how to label this event and how to proceed. The anger in Bacon’s performance upon learning that Fox News would release leaked photos of the bombers if they don’t first is among the interesting moments that really dig into the complications of this sort of thing.
There’s also the skill of the filmmaking. Anchored quite well by another solid score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (their first non-Fincher effort), the on-the-ground approach to all of this is strong enough to keep one engaged without feeling bad for enjoying a film based on such a recent event. Patriots Day does not stay away from the gory details of this bombing, but it certainly doesn’t revel in them either. Similarly tricky is the portrayal of the resolve. The film gets into some action late in the game, which is based on fact to an extent, but the showiness of how this goes down fortunately doesn’t go hand in hand with how characters are involved. I’m being a bit vague, but the film holds off on overly macho heroics.
With many of his films, Berg has been to Michael Mann, Michael Bay and Paul Greengrass as J.J. Abrams has been to Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. There is an attempt to utilize his camera in a very specific way, only to occasionally achieve the genuine emotion that comes out of a certain stylized approach (this especially applies with the relation to Greengrass). While I personally really enjoy The Kingdom, Berg accomplishes similar things here, while providing further complexity by stripping away the typical procedural narrative aspect. Patriots Day has a clear beginning, middle and end, but the film is far more sprawling.
I liked some of the pontificating we see from Wahlberg later in the film, as he discusses a perception of freedom. It was neat to see the debates amongst smart people trying to do their job in the investigation. The bombers had a focus that did not feel one-dimensional. We also get just enough J.K. Simmons to show how great he can be in another supporting role that is the closest thing approaching cool in this movie. There is a lot of good stuff in this film and it goes far enough to almost earn a montage featuring the real victims providing their thoughts on the events.
Patriots Day works about as well as I would have liked. Berg has a sure hand presenting a situation like this without making me feel uncomfortable. It also speaks to a broader theme about how America can stay together by working together. That may be a bit idealistic, but if I’m going to see a movie about an actual bombing, it helps to see some resulting uplift come out of all of it. Patriots Day hits those beats well.
Much like Deepwater Horizon, Patriot’s Day is another great Lionsgate release that emphasizes how involved Peter Berg wants to be in delivering a solid home theater experience. Given the aesthetic of the film, we get a lot of grounded visuals that emphasize the real-world element, while still working as a cinematic construction. As a result, there is a lot to admire in the clarity of the images on display. Stuff like the smoke that plays heavily into the bombing sequence looks pretty fantastic, while the details found in the interiors and darker scenes later on also work really well. Black levels are rich and the color really puts a strong focus on the blues that resonate throughout. Facial textures really play well too, providing a level of detail that heightens the quality of the image found on this Blu-ray all around.
4k ULTRA HD BLU-RAY: The 4k Disc that also comes in the package when viewed definitely shows an uptick in video quality with HDR. The night scenes with explosions really ring it in. The marathon itself with it being vibrant also tends to lend itself as an area to detect some discernible differences. Overall whichever way you are viewing this film both are great options and the 4k is definitely a nice slice above.
While not a disaster drama in the same way as Deepwater Horizon, the DTS: X soundtrack does a tremendous job in properly presenting the level of chaos that comes with a film like this. While the whole marathon and bombing element take up the first half and sound tremendous, it is a talky second half, still full of intensity, given some of the story elements going on. As a result, great strides seem to have been taken in an effort to really satisfy those looking forward to hearing a strong mix when it comes to the explosions, car crashes and shootouts featured in this film. It helps that everyone sounds loud and clear as well, as the balance is very strong. The score never interferes with what’s going on and the ambient noise fits in well on the various channels.
I can admire the effort done with the supplements to put almost all the focus on the real events and what went into bringing this story to life from a perspective not as concerned with the actual production of the film. There is nothing wrong with that. Some more thoughts from Berg in a commentary could have been nice, especially given how involved his thoughts would have been when it came from separating fact and fiction. Still, here’s a good set of features.
- Boston Strong: True Stories of Courage – A 3-part look at the real events involving three specific people who were involved in what happened.
- The Boston Bond: Recounting The Tale – The cast and crew discuss their reasoning for being involved with the film and their love for the city of Boston.
- The Real Patriots: The Local Heroes’ Stories – This feature covers the accounts of the real police commissioner Ed Davis, Sgt. Jeff Pugliese and Dun Meng and also features interviews with Berg and actors Goodman, Simmons and Yang.
- The Cast Remembers – The cast talks about where they were when hearing about the bombing.
- Actors Meet Real-Life Counterpart: A 2-Part Series – Actors Goodman and Yang speak with the real life individuals who inspired their performances.
- Researching The Day – A look at the dedication done by Berg in recreating the history of this event as accurately as he could
- DVD Copy of the Film
- Digital HD Copy of the Film
The Bottom Line
Patriots Day was something of a surprise, as I can get weary at seeing some of these sorts of drama so close to the events that actually occurred. Something like Sully felt like grasping at straws to find a cinematic story to tell, but this film actually does a fine job of respecting the people involved with what happened and delivering a fine and occasionally intense procedural. The Blu-ray matches this sense of quality, as the video and audio transfers are wonderful and the extras do plenty to shed actual light on the reality of the event. This is a solid all-around purchase for anyone interested.