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Patriots Day

January 13, 2017
Patriots Day

Even if the attack hadn’t happened in Boston, it’s hard to imagine Mark Wahlberg not leaping on board for Peter Berg’s latest ode to American masculinity and pain. Patriots Day is the driver at the scene of a horrific accident who not only rubbernecks, but stops and asks the police if they’ll bring the bodies over to get a closer look.

I used the phrase “mere accuracy” recently in my review of Jackie, and it applies just as well here. Like Larraín there, Berg seems to regard the literal truth of his material to be sufficient to justify his production and presentation. But while Larraín merely produced a pretty shell of a biopic, Berg trades in literal flesh and blood to make his profits.

And Wahlberg is on hand to bask in the adulation Berg affords his leads, even if this time they have to make up a police officer out of whole cloth to place at each stage of the bombing and its investigation. Sure, they’ve also got real-Boston figures like BPD Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), Mayor Thomas Menino (Vincent Curatola), and Governor Deval Patrick (Michael Beach), but they’re mostly the infrastructure Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg) needs to save the day. He’s there at the finish line when the bombs go off; he runs circles around the FBI (embodied in Kevin Bacon); he even chases the suspects out to Watertown, where he teams up with a local police (J. K. Simmons) to win a grenade fight, and then actually finds the last guy hiding in a boat.

As for the Tsarnaevs, I hardly mean to suggest that they are to be in any way lauded, but the movie’s version of Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) and Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff) are played as such cartoonish bumblers you halfway expect a laugh track to show up in their scenes. Tamerlan’s American wife, Katherine Russell (Melissa Benoist), is here a deluded dupe. And that, by the way, is the extent of the Muslim characters on display. There were evidently no Muslim police officers in Boston, or citizens affected by the bombing, to hear Berg tell it. Even the interrogator brought in to get information out of Russell (Khandi Alexander) is revealed to be a fraud. “How ungrateful,” Berg asks, “that they don’t cooperate when we do them the common courtesy of treating their beliefs like a Halloween costume?”

But of course Berg isn’t in this to provide a balanced view or nuanced insights. I don’t even think he’s in it to push an agenda of bigotry and division. He just recognizes that white folks who value traditional expressions of masculinity above others form a market niche that isn’t being as efficiently exploited by Hollywood as it could be, and he’s in it to make a buck. If he has to throw the public image of Muslims under the bus to get the God-and-guns crowd to the box office, it’s no skin off his nose. If you happened to be one of the less-photogenic others maimed or killed in the incidents he turns into Profiles in Mark Wahlberg’s Courage, well the grinder needs meat from somewhere. As long as the money keeps flowing in, there’s no reason in the world strong enough to inspire Berg towards a moment of reflection.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: fail.

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