Hard-hitting look and unflinching: why ‘Patriot Days’ delivers much more than you might expect

I attended a preview screening at The MayFair Hotel this evening of ‘Patriot Days’, the Peter Berg-directed film about the Boston Marathon bombings which took place in 2013. I was a little unsure as to what to expect and have to admit that the title alone made me nervous – with the subject matter being what it is, there was plenty of potential for jingoism or a convenient misrepresentation of historical events.

I have to hold my hands up and say that I was wrong. This is not a film that passes moral judgement – instead, what it does do, very effectively, is stick to the facts. Beginning with the build up to the bombings and with an emphasis on the joyful atmosphere and celebratory mood of Boston’s most famous annual sporting occasion, the film focuses for a short period on the bombings and their ensuing carnage (and is unflinching in this respect) and then goes on to focus in much more detail on the subsequent manhunt for the perpetrators and the key personnel involved.

Patriot Days

One of the most impactful elements of this film is how successfully it captures the bewilderment and terror of Boston’s residents over the four days that the manhunt lasted for. This is a city unused to dealing with terrorism – and it shows. The tensions between the FBI, Boston Police, politicians and the media are palpable, and only too believable – and are reflected in the intense anxiety experienced by Bostonians as their city goes into lockdown and the security forces begin to scour Boston inch by inch in their search for the second bomber.

I was particularly impressed by the way in which this movie is filmed – the use of handheld cameras gives it a documentary-type feel and it’s as though the events you are witnessing are happening in real-time. The cast, too, is excellent, with Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, John Goodman and Michelle Monaghan all delivering compelling performances.

Not an easy task, making a film about events which happened so recently, and no doubt some will say that it’s too soon. Part of me agrees with that (especially as the appeal process of the surviving bomber is ongoing); the other thinks that the film’s underlying message of hope is needed now more than ever in these troubled times. This view is backed up by one of the survivors of the bombings, Patrick Downes, who had to have both legs amputated – as did his wife, Jessica, who was standing next to him in a group of spectators as they watched the race. In an interview featured at the end of the film, Patrick explained how he has been able to retain his faith in human nature: “People didn’t run away from us after the bombs had gone off – they ran towards us, to try and save us. That’s what makes me want to get out of bed every day and carry on with my life.”

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