‘Patriots Day’ is a respectful tribute to the people of Boston, critics say—with a notable exception

Mark Wahlberg on the set of the 2016 film PATRIOTS DAY, directed by Peter Berg.
Mark Wahlberg on the set of 'Patriots Day.' –Karen Ballard/CBS Films

If you’ve lived in Greater Boston over the past year, you’ve likely heard and formed an opinion about Patriots Day, the movie about the Boston Marathon bombings starring and executive produced by Mark Wahlberg that filmed throughout the area this past spring.

The movie opens in several Boston-area theaters on Wednesday before hitting theaters nationwide on Jan. 13, 2017.

Patriots Day, directed by Peter Berg, stars Wahlberg as a composite character: a Boston police officer named Tommy Saunders who witnesses the bombings from the Marathon finish line, works the investigation and, in the end, apprehends Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The majority of the rest of the cast portrays actual victims, survivors, first responders, and investigators involved in the attack and its aftermath.

With some exceptions, critics have generally praised Patriots Day, calling it a respectful, well-researched film about the Marathon bombings that’s a tribute to the people of Boston.


Peter Debruge of Variety calls Patriots Day “the movie CBS Films was put on this earth to produce.”

Patriots Day is no rush-job TV movie; it’s genuinely exciting megaplex entertainment, informed by extensive research, featuring bona fide movie stars, and staged with equal degrees of professionalism and respect — as suggested by the title, appropriated from the holiday on which the incident occurred.

Glenn Kenny from The New York Times
 says Patriots Day is “at its best as a vivid re-creation of the measures and resources needed to conduct investigations of such catastrophic crimes.”

All the players here are good, but those in the roles of law enforcement parties — Mr. Wahlberg, Mr. Bacon, John Goodman, J. K. Simmons and Jake Picking among them — are particularly convincing.

Alonso Duralde of The Wrap
 says the movie’s lengthy coda, which introduces the real-life survivors and heroes of the bombings, is the most compelling part.

It does no disservice to the cast of Patriots Day to note that the film’s most undeniably powerful moments come at the end, when we see footage of the real-life victims who were injured and killed in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Would this movie have been more powerful as a documentary? Quite possibly. Does it work as a narrative? For the most part, yes.

Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times
 writes that Berg and Wahlberg are at their best with this film

A native of Boston who brings that city’s reality with him to Patriots Day, Wahlberg excels in a part that was created around his strengths. Berg also helped himself by allowing a welcome restraint to modulate his direction, keeping things moving briskly in classic police procedural fashion and, if not totally avoiding overly emotional moments, downplaying them as much as possible.

Allen Salkin of The New York Daily News
 says the film “rings false.”

While Patriots Day works in some ways, especially in its intriguing blow-by-blow of the events before and after the attack, the film is ham-fisted. It works so hard to evoke a sense of teary patriotism it leaves behind a grimy feeling.

It’s worth noting that none of those reviews come out of Boston.

James Verniere of the Boston Herald says Patriots Day is “a film every American and anyone planning to do us harm should see.”

A powerful, nerve-rattling recreation of the Boston Marathon bombings and the subsequent fierce investigation, climactic firefight and terrorist capture, Patriots Day, a police procedural produced by and starring Dorchester’s Mark Wahlberg, is one of the year’s best American films.

Ty Burr of the Globe
gave the movie two stars, writing, “Everyone involved with this movie believes they’re acting with respect, even when they’re not.”

Peter Berg’s movie, starring Mark Wahlberg in an invented role, is neither great nor gawdawful. It’s professionally made, slickly heartfelt, and is offered up as an act of civic healing. At best, it’s unnecessary. At worst, it’s vaguely insulting.

Watch the trailer for Patriots Day:


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