Patriots Day (2016)      ☆

32,952 Hours After Blast.

Patriots Day is the very worst of the trend in Hollywood of turning recent tragedies into larger than life blockbuster spectacles. A few years ago there was Everest, a film that indulged state-of-the-art effects and technical wizardry, including gimmicky 3-D, to show the demise of hikers all based on real people. Earlier in 2016, Patriots Day director Peter Berg gave us Deepwater Horizon, an empty vessel for 100 million dollars worth of pyrotechnics and sound design, again re-creating the brutal deaths of real life characters, with the patronizing “story” of blue collar boys up against giant corporations. And now, apparently unsatisfied with the amount of damage he’s done to cinema, Berg returns for a film about the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, 2013, pandering to overly simplistic notions of us vs them terrorism, while relishing the re-enactments of real people getting limbs blown off, all before wrapping everything up with a neat little bow of “love conquers all” sentimentality.

It’s clear from the first ten minutes there’s no story here, or at least not one that Peter Berg desires to tell. He takes a mosaic approach, establishing many different characters, all based on real people, with no connection other than the parts they will play in the bombing: the bombers themselves, those instrumental in catching them, and those whose sole purpose is to be murdered or dismembered. Because Berg needs his film to play to the farthest corners of Texas and Alabama, considerable attention must be paid to the Bahston accents (even going as far as dialogue specifically about the accents), the tendency of police officers to throw tips in the tip jar on their way out of Dunkin’ Donuts, and also to the depiction of these local bluebloods as down home boys who love American things like kicking back with a King of Beers and listening to the Zac Brown Band.

Emerging from this pile of clichés is our “hero,” composite character Tommy Saunders (Tawwwwmy Sahhhwnders), played by Mark Wahlberg, and directed as if told “remember your character in Deepwater Horizon,” during the filming of which he was more than likely told, “remember your character in Transformers,” etc. He’s all bluster and fake bravado, always appearing at every key moment throughout the unfolding events to call foul on heartless FBI agents who want to leave the body of a child in the street for investigation, or to yell “those are bombs” and “we need all medical personnel NOW,” or to wax Hallmark about how terrorists will never win because, well…LOVE. There is nothing wrong with composite characters, film has taken advantage of them throughout time to distill a singular perspective from a variety of situations and themes, like the band Stillwater in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, or Joey La Motta (Joe Pesci) in Raging Bull. But Wahlberg is subbing for the film’s lack of story and multi-dimensional characters, to carry the illusion that we are actually watching a movie and there’s a point to its existence, and not just an adaptation of a Wikipedia page with phoned in cameos.

Berg’s style is all tired flash, like a second-rate Michael Bay, capturing actors through broad gestures and rapid fire, overly conversational dialogue that merely suggests development, and lazily over-compensating during special effects moments (shaky cam-then zoom is his favorite) in hopes that the editing room will save him. At least Deepwater Horizon had a single, sustained length of continued explosions and pyrotechnics that in a vacuum could be appreciated on a technical level. Here the chaos is bookended by the overbearing obscenity of passing off complexity and ambiguity as black and white hoo-rah nationalism and entertainment. Patriots Day pretends to be apolitical and open-minded, even while it blurs the distinction between those two attributes, but then refuses to miss a beat when characters are given a chance to vent their hatred at the suspects. Not that we should be expected to feel sympathy for them, but the film doesn’t even bother to explore any issue beneath the superficial, which is the most convincing argument of all for its vacuity. Scenes hang limp, stamped unnecessarily by a time of day, and distance from the event, begging to be exchanged for documentary footage, or even newsreel accounts, of which the film also offers in great supply, even adding a coda comprised of interviews of the actual survivors and members of the police force. And underneath it all is the incessant drone of composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, cleaning out their ambient closet of tracks that didn’t make it onto Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts release, and begging the question of Reznor’s integrity for choosing a work of such emptiness, after practically auditioning David Fincher’s idea for The Social Network eight years ago, as interviews on record will attest to his desire for great meaning in his work.

That Patriots Day is even thought of by its makers as eligible for awards consideration is a joke in itself, but I guess it makes sense in a world where the unimaginable is proven to happen – look no further than American politics – that this film might hop on board a great tidal wave of garbage and regale in its many victories. In a time of endless criticism of the liberal media and Hollywood elite, when factions of society thought marginalized and feeling ignored begin rising up and turning the tables, films like this will no doubt thrive, as damaging and hurtful as they are in all their empty displays of violence and hate, void of context save for chest-puffing disguised as love; especially when it comes from a filmmaker through voice-over, because he lacks the ability to show it. It’s made up, like the very patriotism Patriots Day pretends to display.

32,953 Hours After Blast.

The Verdict: Pan

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