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'Patriots Day' is a blunt force object about the Boston marathon bombing

Mark Wahlberg plays a fictionalized character who helps save the day.
Patriots Day

In "Patriots Day," Mark Wahlberg plays a Boston police sergeant who helped catch tKaren Ballard

‘Patriots Day’
Director: Peter Berg
Stars:
Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Monaghan
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

Peter Berg has never been one for pleasantries. Since making “Very Bad Things,” the rare pitch black comedy that actually does go too far, the actor-turned-director has stormed into powder keg situations like a drunk bull in a cramped china shop. He might not have intended “Lone Survivor” to be a straight-up military recruitment film, but he was careless enough that it was one anyway.

Likewise, Berg clearly intended “Patriots Day,” his recreation of the 2013 Boston marathon bombing, as an ode to resilience, to communities coming together, to love trumping hate. It’s also about awesome dudes with big, cool guns, officials laughing away suspects’ Miranda rights in the form of audience-applause punchlines and Mark Wahlberg playing a composite character — a move that allows one of the world’s biggest movie stars to save the day.

Wahlberg is Sergeant Tommy Sanders, a salt-of-the-earth hothead banished by his meddling superiors to gruntwork duty on marathon day. He’s there when the first blast goes off, and he’s there to take the testimony of Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), the guy who was kidnapped by the Tsarnaevs but managed to escape. Other characters do some of the heavy lifting, like J.K. Simmons’ cigarillo-chomping Watertown police chief, but Tommy is always there somewhere, like the centerpiece of a “Where’s Waldo” cartoon. He is, again, not a real person, which slightly compromises a film that pretends to be a no-nonsense, just-the-facts-ma’am recreation of a tragedy that’s still raw.

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Berg has a dark, dark sense of humor, which shouldn’t gibe with his earnest love of all things military. It doesn’t, to be honest, but there are times when his goofier side lets in welcome, sometimes stranger-than-fiction details. When Meng’s car is hijacked, a perpetually baked Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff) casually bugs his frightened victim about whether there’s an iPod jack. When the feds take over a warehouse as their HQ, an official points out there’s only two bathroom, “and one of them’s broken.” A chunk of the second act is eaten up by a barn-burning debate between Kevin Bacon’s fed stooge and (sigh) Tommy about whether to make photos of the Tsarnaevs public, which could lead to some good old fashioned Boston mob mentality.

Even that bit is fumbled, though, because Berg clearly believes in the power of blunt force, not some sissy measured response. The Newtown shoot-out is blown up to D-Day on a suburban street, and multiple doomed characters are introduced via moony romantic subplots, only so their fates hit us that much more. As a populist docudrama that could activate anti-Muslim fears, it stops short of a Trump rally but still includes a bit where an interrogator (Khandi Alexander, giving the film’s best performance in the film’s worst scene) pretends to be Muslim then doffs her head-dress soon as she’s done. As he did in “Deepwater Horizon,” which had the fortune to be merely anodyne, Berg tacks on an extended coda featuring the real survivors, asserting that he’s done them right when he’s done nothing of the sort.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
 
 
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