Despite being partially responsible for HBO’s incredibly smart The Leftovers, Peter Berg has established for himself a niche of uber-patriotic American “true stories” that lie somewhere between Clint Eastwood Oscar-bait and Michael Bay blockbusting. His second 2016 release, an account of the 2013 Boston marathon bombing, is his finest film of this sort to date: excellently-paced, and full of small but memorable turns by top-tier performers: John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist and Michelle Monaghan are among those joining Mark Wahlberg to re-enact a frantic few days in recent US history. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, kings of the tense synth, provide a suitably unnerving score. Berg’s documentarian approach to camerawork and editing, which has been jarring in the past, suits the subject matter.
The film admirably avoids stigmatisation, despite the presumable Trumpian attitudes of much of its audience, and its dramatic high-point involves Wahlberg character delivering a powerful speech about the importance of love in overcoming hatred. Similarly, footage of President Obama is used to highlight the unity that can come from tragedy.
The shocking transition from Monday afternoon bombing to week-long manhunt and the eventual Friday night capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is captured powerfully, though it arguably lacks some of the suspense of the 2014 episode of The Newsroom titled “Boston”. As “true story” cinema goes, bringing to life events that have barely just concluded, Patriots Day is a sincere and impressively-directed tribute to a horrific day in Boston life.