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Patriots Day Review: Wahlberg Is Boston Strong in Marathon Bombing Biopic

By Brian Gallagher — December 21st, 2016

I've always been a big sucker for practically any movie based on a true story, partially because I'm always fascinated about the disconnect between truth and fiction with these adaptations, but also because stories that are at least "inspired by" true events often strike a more powerful chord than those which are completely fictional. Movie goers want to see the events they lived through portrayed on the big screen, along with the stories of the people they admired unfolding through celluloid. I wouldn't be so bold as to call the upcoming true story adaptation Patriots Day one of the best of all time, but it's certainly a powerful story that takes fans inside one of the most terrifying and empowering events in recent American history.

For those who don't hail from Massachusetts, Wisconsin or Maine, Patriots Day is a holiday celebrated on the third Monday in April, which commemorates the battles fought in Lexington and Concord during the Revolutionary War. In the city of Boston, the holiday coincides with the iconic Boston Marathon. The date is so important to the city of Boston that the Boston Red Sox have been scheduled to play at home on that date since 1959. This powerful film explores several aspects of one particular Patriots Day, where brothers Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev set off two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, that killed three people and injured 264 others. This heinous act helped give birth to the fitting phrase Boston Strong, with this movie shining a much-needed light on the unsung heroes who brought down these terrorists in an incredibly short amount of time.

I was fortunate enough to see this film at AFI Fest, where it was the festival's closing night gala screening. Not only was the film introduced by director Peter Berg and star/producer Mark Wahlberg at the festival, but Mark Wahlberg promised the fans in attendance a special surprise after the film had finished. Instead of a Q&A, as is standard for most AFI Fest movies, fans were treated to appearances by some of the actual real-life heroes who did their part to bring these horrific individuals to justice. This film marks Mark Wahlberg's third collaboration with director Peter Berg in three years, following 2013's Lone Survivor and this year's Deepwater Horizon, and this might be their best team-up yet with a story that will strike a powerful chord if you believe in the power of the American spirit, turning the spotlight on the brave men and women who embodied the catch phrase "Boston Strong."

Mark Wahlberg stars as Sgt. Tommy Saunders, a Boston cop who is stationed at the finish line of the race on April 15, 2013. While many of the characters in Patriots Day are based on real people, Tommy Saunders is actually a composite of several different Boston cops who were working on that fateful day, and helped track down the bombers, brothers Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, just four days after the bombing. While Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg's last two true story adaptations achieved moderate success, both critically and financially, Patriots Day has such a different energy, an urgency and fervent pace that puts you right in the thick of this attack and the manhunt that followed and captivated a nation.

The script by Peter Berg, Matt Cook (Triple 9) and Joshua Zetumer (RoboCop reboot) has an unrelenting pace (along with a hilarious alternative name for a household iron), while also offering a number of different perspectives on this incident, including a number of others in local Boston law enforcement and federal agents who quickly descended on the scene, the bombers and their families and even some of the unsung heroes as well. I was simply blown away by the story of a young Chinese man named Dun "Danny" Meng, who largely avoided the spotlight after the Boston bombing, but whose bravery was largely responsible for the Tsarnaev brothers being caught. Meng, portrayed wonderfully by Jimmy O. Yang, was carjacked and taken hostage by the bombers, who admitted they were responsible for the bombing, and the killing of a police officer. Meng managed to escape his own car and contact the authorities, which lead to the film's thrilling and emotional climax.

From Lionsgate, the film is peppered with amazing performances from Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Michelle Monaghan and Lana Condor, just to name a few. As great as this ensemble is, none of these performances are more important than the story they all come together to tell, just like how everyone from cops, FBI agents, a young Chinese man and the entire city of Boston banded together, and became the symbol of strength that inspired a nation. For those in New York in Los Angeles, Patriots Day opens on December 21, with the film set to expand nationwide on January 13, 2017.

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