While other reviews might point out that Patriots Day didn’t stray too far into exploitative action thriller terrain, I very much beg to differ.
The 2016 film starring Mark Wahlberg as Boston Police Department’s Sergeant Tommy Saunders chronicles the manhunt of terrorist suspects accused of committing the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Patriots Day was a box office disappointment, raking in only $44 million of its $45 million budget. Perhaps this speaks widely of a new trend of movie goers – tired of the same old caricatures of white saviourism vs heartless brown folk.
I took my friend, whose family is Muslim, to this film to gain the perspective of a young brown man living in a multicultural society. He pointed out to me many of the following criticisms and I thank him for enduring the utter garbage that we witnessed on screen.
Not only does the film glamorise the events of the bombing itself, but it focusses much on the stories of the ‘hero’ police and intelligence agencies rather than the victims who were killed or seriously injured because of the attack. The plot fixated more on Saunders’ alcoholism than the loss of limbs of young couple Patrick Downes and Jessica Kesky, or the tragic death of eight-year-old boy Martin William Richard. The victims of the attack were half-heartedly paid tribute to in a “where are they now” type segment tacked on to the end of the film. This speaks volumes of the afterthought nature of the stories of the victims, and the romanticisation of the men who saved the city of Boston. If the film did its job properly, the 15 minute statements celebrating Boston’s reinvigorated sense ‘Boston Strong’ wouldn’t be necessary.
Sure, the Hollywood of old may not have been able to sell stories based on victims, but nuanced stories of real people are slowly making their way to the forefront of cinematic recognition. Take Moonlight or Hidden Figures for example, two critically acclaimed box office smash hits that tell niche stories of overcoming tragedy, without having to turn to seemingly mandated patriotism bordering the ever so prevalent notions of Islamophobia and populism.
While the action scenes aren’t particularly gaudy, they’re about all when it comes to the strengths of Patriots Day. From run of the mill “Islam good, America bad” monologues, to using a woman’s religion in an attempt to siphon the truth from her, Patriots Day is problematic to say the least.
If Patriots Day truly is about Boston’s resilience and newfound unity, then where were the stories of the medics, nurses and surgeons who saved hundreds and counselled thousands after the bombs hit? Where were the nitty gritty stories of the Boston spirit, as told through the recovery of those whose lives were irreversibly changed through fatality?
Instead, Patriots Day presents an almost amusing caricature of a Boston police officer, through no help of Wahlberg regularly playing such caricatures throughout his career. This was in no way aided by a scene where Saunders returns from ground zero to the frantic questions of his family, including “who done it?” and “was it al-Qaeda?” Is Marky Mark okay? Injured? Mentally stable? Nah, let’s cut the sympathy shit and jump straight to finding the bastards.
Why else would the production team not-so-skilfully drag in Saunders’ marriage problems and rampant addiction into the narrative, in order for him to appear relatable and likeable, so the audience backs him every step of the way on his hunt for the perpetrators?
Themo Melikidze, who had the difficult role of portraying the robotically written Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two brothers behind the bombing plot, did so by putting on an Arabic accent, despite the fact that the two brothers are Chechen, where the Chechen language is related more to Russian than any language spoken in the Middle East. Alongside this not-so-obvious attempt at accessible misrepresentation, the stereotypes of ‘oppressed Muslim woman’ and ‘freed American dame’ are so overplayed and boring, that it’s practically insulting to the eyes and ears.
Do not bother with Patriots Day unless you enjoy enduring 2 hours of “fuck yeah ‘Merica” antics. I think collectively as movie-goers, we deserve better than this, and so do the victims of this tragedy this film apparently pays tribute to.