At one point in “Patriots Day” law-enforcement officials scrambling to find the Boston Marathon bombers reconstruct the crime scene on a vast scale. Taking over an empty warehouse, they lay out the exact dimensions of the street in question, complete with bloody artifacts left behind after the blast.
You might say the movie is trying to do the same thing. It’s a procedural, schooling us on how the attack happened, and how the bombers were caught.
If only director Peter Berg had stuck to a terse, docu-drama style, this might have been effective. The film is a little too sloppy to live up to that, unfortunately.
It opens with a Boston cop, Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg, rejoining his “Deepwater Horizon” and “Lone Survivor” director), a fictional character in a movie made up mostly of real-life people. A lot of tiresome locker-room joshing breaks out whenever Tommy is around.
There’s a rather creepy build-up to the bombing, as we watching various players — the bombers, the victims, the police — take their places on April 15, 2013. We’ve all seen the video footage of the bombing, but Berg cannily puts us inside the event with some remarkable re-creations of the scene.
Then we’re back and forth between survivors in hospitals and the urgent collaboration between law-enforcement officials, which includes the mandatory tension between local authorities and the FBI.
And the bombers, of course. The film portrays Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze) as the sullen brains behind the plan, with his shallow brother Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff) as a passive follower.
The film supplies no indication of the Tsarnaevs’ motive. This is about how things happened, not why things happened. Yet it feels like a strange omission.
A handful of sequences stand out. One is the Tsarnaevs’ random carjacking of a stupefied college student (Jimmy O. Yang), a very tense sequence.
Another is the shoot-out with the suspects in the Watertown neighborhood. Berg conveys the utter chaos of the situation, from the stupid cowardice of the bombers to the confusion of the police response.
The cast members all operate in the same “Git ‘er done” mode of grim determination: Kevin Bacon is the FBI special agent in charge, John Goodman the Boston police commissioner, and J.K. Simmons a Watertown cop. The film wastes Michelle Monaghan in a suffering-wife part, which I do not forgive.
“Patriots Day” ends with the obligatory epilogue of real footage. This trend has gotten out of hand in movie end-credits sequences, although it’s hard to argue against its effectiveness in this case.
“Patriots Day” (2 stars)
There are some effective sequences in this docudrama-style re-creation of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath, although Peter Berg’s film is too sloppy to truly click. Mark Wahlberg leads a cast allied in grim determination.
Rating: R, for violence, language
Showing: Alderwood, Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Meridian, Thornton Place Stadium, Woodinville, Cascade Mall and Oak Harbor Plaza