It took less than four years after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that killed three spectators and dominated news headlines for days for Hollywood to react with a dramatic re-telling starring Mark Wahlberg. These sorts of things tend to skew maudlin, cloying or obvious (if not all three) so you might be forgiven for judging director Peter Berg's Patriots Day sight unseen. Indeed, it disappointed at the box office and failed to garner any traction awards-wise despite a qualifying theatrical run in late December intended for just that purpose. But not so fast, maybe. Perhaps Patriots Day only slightly veers in the expected direction and instead works nicely as an ensemble piece with a dynamic middle section.
Wahlberg's the weakest link, playing a fictional composite who happens to be everywhere of importance to the point of distraction. He's Sgt. Tommy Saunders, a suspended police detective who's been promised that he'll get back into the department's good graces if he just works the finish line of the Boston Marathon while in full uniform and a neon yellow vest. Hobbled by a bum knee, Wahlberg limps around after the dramatic explosions trying to find some sense of order amid the chaos. Berg stages the scene with a keen tone of sober realism and utter shock. It's to the film's credit that it avoids overplaying the actual bombing.
The movie strengthens as it continues into the investigation portion, introducing Kevin Bacon as the FBI special agent in charge and continuing to fan out the ensemble of characters to include John Goodman as the Boston police commisioner and J.K. Simmons as a sergeant in the neighboring Watertown force. Friction behind the scenes helps to create tension as they struggle to identify the bombers. Pacing, even with a running time of 133 minutes, is generally a strength, at least for the first two-thirds. There's a lot of details packed in while still making a point of shading in a dozen or so characters.
What solidifies Patriots Day as an effective procedural beyond its mere potential for painting by the numbers is a frantic midsection where the two bombers realize they must go on the run. The carjacking and ultimately botched kidnapping of an Asian man become the catalyst for the downfall. This entire sequence, culminating with the Watertown shoot-out that's clearly the film's strongest point, makes for compelling cinema. The viewer gets completely lost in the moment. The remaining half hour or so feels anti-climactic in comparison.
It's tough to argue with the ending reflections from a human standpoint, but dramatically it all takes away a bit from the leanness of the narrative. Perhaps having David Ortiz and quick moments with the real-life people featured would please more than it would disappoint. Berg is clearly respectful above all else. Based on the collective response, though, audiences might not have been eager to re-visit these events so soon after they occurred. Still, even those with a case of Boston film fatigue might want to give Patriots Day a chance. It's ultimately a pretty good film with a great sequence that works despite the shoehorned presence of Mark Wahlberg. Had Wahlberg been eliminated funding might have been an issue but the other elements could have more than picked up the slack. As it is, there's plenty of universal appeal and enough drama to keep viewers glued to their screens.
From Lionsgate and CBS Films, Patriots Day hits Region A Blu-ray in a Dual Format edition with Digital HD redeemable in both Ultraviolet and iTunes. A separate 4K version is also available.
The 2.40:1 presentation looks crisp and excellent in high definition. Detail and clarity are as top notch as one would hope for from a new release. There was no hint of damage or digital issues while watching. The image overall takes on a very natural look, whether it's showcasing the sunlit outdoors or the darkness of night, rather than something overtly processed.
There are numerous audio options available on the Blu-ray. These begin with an English DTS:X track which is immersive and strong, jarring the listener as the bombs go off without making you feel like you're right in the middle of the explosion. This is joined by an English DTS Headphone: X track for those who might be utilizing headphones while watching, perhaps on a tiny screen. Then there's an English 2.0 Dolby Digital Audio Optimized for Late-Night Listening track that will be perfect for those trying to not disturb neighbors or possibly sleeping members of their household. English Descriptive Audio completes the four options given to English-speaking viewers. Meanwhile, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital and French 5.1 Dolby Digital dubs are also included. Additionally, subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired, Spanish and French for the hearing impaired.
Special features run roughly 100 minutes in total and are fairly robust for this recent release, even if they do tend repeat themselves from time to time. Both the Blu-ray and DVD contain the featurettes "Boston Strong" (21:34) which consists of three separate pieces detailing individual stories of the real-life people in the film and the more generic publicity piece "Researching the Day" (11:21).
Blu-ray exclusive bonus material includes "The Boston Bond: Recounting the Tale" (21:43). There's also "The Real Patriots: The Local Heroes' Stories" (19:48), which turns the spotlight on the experiences of the real people that were dramatized for the movie. "The Cast Remembers" (5:51) is a piece in which the actors briefly talk about their memories of the Boston Marathon bombing. "Actors Meet Real-Life Counterparts" is a two-part series in which John Goodman is interviewed alongside Ed Davis (8:10) and Jimmy O. Yang sits beside Dun Meng (10:03) for a series of reflections.
Trailers for other Lionsgate releases, including Deepwater Horizon, Manchester by the Sea, Hacksaw Ridge, and Hell or High Water, are also easily viewable on the disc.