Writer/director Peter Berg has an extraordinary and uncanny ability to take real-life events and turn them into films that boarder on documentary. Combining the collaboration and cooperation with the actual persons involved, as well as actual footage, be it CCTV, news or witness and extensive research, watching a Berg film you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for the real deal. ‘Patriots Day’ marks Berg’s third collaboration with actor/producer Mark Wahlberg, but this one is just that little bit more special. Not only does it depict the events of the Boston Marathon bombings just shy of four years ago, but its star is also a Boston native.
We all watched in horror on the 15th of April 2013 as two bombs detonated at the finish line of the Boston marathon. It was an event that not only stole the lives of three people including an eight-year-old boy, but forever changed and shaped the lives of hundreds more as well as that of a city. ‘Patriots Day’ follows fictional Boston PD Sergeant Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg) as he mans the marathon finish line when the bombs explode. He coordinates and aids the aftermath amidst the chaos and the ensuing investigation including when the FBI roll in and take over. The events of that day and those that follow are seen through the eyes of several victims, police, affected bystanders and the bombers themselves, as well as those whose importance and impact isn’t revealed until later. Starting from the night before the bombings to the minutes after the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff) four days later, each person has a story and different angle to tell.
Before stepping behind the camera, Peter Berg was/is a very successful actor, which means he’s been indoctrinated into the Hollywood machine. Once he became a director he showed a great artistic prowess, particularly when it comes to action, and in the last few years he’s developed his niche for this hyper-realistic storytelling. As a film lover, I just wish Berg’s talents as a screenwriter matched his talents as a director. As a director he has such a fantastic eye and style, but as a writer he writes for actors, meaning they deliver “lines” rather than story or character, that err a little on the saccharine side. And he also lets his patriotism take over far too much. While he’s not shy to point out faults within a character, a system or even an establishment, he always seems to overcompensate somewhere else by being “too American” or overly and unrealistically favourable to someone who doesn’t quite deserve it. It’s here that will sadly keep him as a good director instead of a great one.
As a director, Peter Berg has such a fantastic eye and style, but as a writer he writes for actors.
Here in ‘Patriots Day’, Peter Berg is handed a great story which he turns into a good one by choosing to turning it into a “Boston Strong” love letter. He could have done this with just the truth, but by adding factional characters within a non-fiction tale, he’s marred the film’s full impact. With so many real people showcasing so much real bravery and strength, how are we supposed to feel when you put a nonexistent character among it pretending to do the same?