Demoted temporarily for an unspecified infraction, detective Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg) is forced on beat duty on the day of the Boston Marathon, 2013. He's understandably miffed but when bombs explode at the finishing line, maiming many and killing three (including a seven-year-old boy), Saunders is all business. Amidst the chaos and confusion Special Agent Deslauriers (Bacon) swoops in to handle the operation, using confiscated cell phone footage to get a glimpse of the bombers. Brothers Dzhokhar (Nat Wolff) and Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) Tsarnev are the guilty parties and a city-wide search ensues with an embittered Saunders in particular determined to track them down…
Patriots Day matches Pearl Harbor almost beat for beat: long intro introducing the heroes, the soon-to-be-victims, their home lives, the unexpected attack, and the let's-get-the-bastards revenge pursuit. Director Peter Berg is on message with Pearl Harbor's unabashed patriotic leanings too; a review of Patriots Day can be split into two: the political message and the action movie. Let's take the politics first.
Is Patriots Day a film that will help assuage the current political climate? No. Will Trump love it? Hell, yeah. There's something wrong with that. Berg is only interested in the bombers as villains: Melikidze is a focused killer and Wolff a dopey college student who gets excited about holding a gun and begs his brother to let him drive the getaway car. Their motivations - what has brought them to do this despicable and cowardly act? - aren't explored. Bacon's FBI agent tries to be the voice of reason - "The moment we label this terrorism, it's stock markets, it's politicians, it's anti-Muslim backlash" – but it's not long before he's beating the same drum. Berg has dipped a toe into flag-waving action before with Lone Survivor and The Kingdom but the timing of this release is highly questionable.
Berg delivers on the action front though. While the bombing itself is over quickly, the Battleship director puts his imagination to the ensuing hunt and shootouts. The matter-of-fact approach to the Tsarnev brothers carjacking of a MIT student and the shooting of a campus cop (both get their own romance backstory to flesh them out) brings to mind Fincher's Zodiac, while the street shootout involving J.K Simmons and other police has all the earmarks of Michael Mann. Tense and exciting stuff.
Wahlberg is typical Wahlberg for the most part (angry comebacks, furrowed brow) and is his usual watchable self but he's given a wonderful speech - Berg co-wrote the script with Matt Cook (Triple 9) and Joshua Zetzumer (Robocop remake) - during a well-earned quiet moment about his and his wife's (Monaghan) struggles to conceive and his delivery is flat. It's actually Jimmy O. Yang's performance as the kidnapped MIT student that catches the eye.