It must be January, because we have another Mark Wahlberg-Peter Berg collaboration shuffling onto multiplex schedules amidst the leftover studio detritus and perfunctory late-season awards bait that couldn’t quite make the December holiday weekend deadline. This time the duo’s eye for overstuffed, flag-waving schmaltz has been turned to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and the film that resulted is a convoluted exercise in kitchen-sink cinema that employs every cheap trick of emotional exploitation in the book, and then tries to shoehorn in a few more for good measure. The Boston bombing was a horrific event, the remarkable resiliency of the city’s people is laudable — and Berg and Wahlberg seem hellbent on riding the wave of patriotic human interest all the way to the bank, for better or worse.
Despite my cynicism about its handling of a sensitive subject, Patriot’s Day is not without virtue. It’s not, strictly speaking, an incompetent film — just a bungled attempt at creating something meaningful out of nearly incomprehensible tragedy. Where the film lost me is in its own confusion, its sense of trying to be all things to, and about, everyone involved. This story of homespun heroism should have been compelling enough if told with a sense of documentary verisimilitude, but the filmmakers seem fixated on tarting up their tale with genre trappings that simply aren’t necessary. Patriot’s Day vacillates between identifying as a disaster movie, a police procedural, an action-packed shoot-em-up, a spy thriller and a hospital melodrama — all while trying to insist, in defiance of everything we see on screen, that it’s really a character study. In short, it’s a film overcomplicated with cliches that shortchange the people it purports to serve.
Had it been based on a fictional premise, I could have accepted the substantial slice of cheese that Berg and Wahlberg have served up with less objection. However, Patriot’s Day strives to depict the real men and women involved in the bombing and subsequent manhunt that gripped the national imagination in the weeks that followed, and somehow manages to do them a disservice through its lack of narrative focus. The cast is up for the challenge, with John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan and pretty much every actor involved doing their best to honor the people who endured the event. But then there’s Wahlberg, playing an artificially constructed amalgam that places him at the center of every pertinent moment of the proceedings, like Woody Allen’s Zelig if he were a terrorist-hunting cop from Southie. This sole fictional personage inserted into the docudrama proceedings allows the filmmakers to ground the audience’s point of view in a central character, but it also leaves the film feeling like it’s less interested in the valiant efforts of the people of Boston than it is in how much ass Marky Mark would have kicked if he had been there.
The blatant heartstring tugging of Patriot’s Day would’ve been far more forgivable had the filmmakers shown a little more restraint, but not unlike the terrorists’ bombs, they’ve packed a little bit of everything into the movie in the hopes of hitting as many soft targets as possible. The resultant chaos feels manipulative rather than constructive, and when the final minutes of the movie showcase interviews with the actual people depicted, far more genuine emotional affect is packed into a few frames of talking head footage than in the two hours that preceded it. It’s a passable film with a noble purpose, but I’d rather wait for a documentary. Rated R for violence, realistically graphic injury images, language throughout and some drug use.
Now Playing at Carmike 10, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville.