Review – Patriots Day

FILM REVIEWPATRIOTS DAY. With Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist. Written by Peter Berg, Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer. Directed by Peter Berg. Rated R for violence, realistically graphic injury images, language throughout and some drug use. 133 minutes. 

Tommy Saunders wasn’t even supposed to be on the finish line that morning. Coming off a suspension for insubordination, the foul-mouthed Sergeant’s final act of contrition to Police Commissioner Ed Davis was putting on a fluorescent vest and walking a beat at the Boston Marathon. He may have complained that he “looked like a crossing ghad” but luckily for all of us, Tommy was there. He was the first one to go running towards the blast while all the other cops stood around dumbfounded. Tommy took command of the scene, bringing in the ambulances and telling all the highly trained medical personnel exactly what to do. I shudder to think how many more lives would have been lost on April 15, 2013 if Tommy Saunders hadn’t been there that morning.

Over the sleepless nights that followed, Sergeant Saunders’ heroism was unparalleled. Everything you heard on TV from Commissioner Davis or FBI special agent in charge Richard DesLauriers was actually Tommy’s idea first. “I worked homicide, what solves cases are witnesses,” he explained to the clueless bureaucrats in their command center, inspiring them to take the crazy, unprecedented step of asking people who were at the scene of the crime to describe what they saw. Tommy Saunders was everywhere during those crucial days. It was Tommy who located the surveillance tapes that gave us our first chilling glimpses of the Tsarnaevs. He was the officer who took the statement from carjacking victim Dun Meng, after which Tommy led the Watertown police in the firefight that shook the neighborhood to its foundations. Tommy’s the one who spotted the blood on David Henneberry’s boat in the backyard, resulting in the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and putting an end to our city’s horrible nightmare.

Oh and by the way, Tommy Saunders doesn’t exist. He’s a completely fictional character played by producer-star Mark Wahlberg in director Peter Berg’s revolting new film PATRIOTS DAY–as disgraceful an exploitation of real-life tragedy as I’ve ever seen. Everyone involved in this movie should be ashamed of themselves. In the weeks running up to its release, we here in Boston have been hearing a lot of gaseous pronouncements from the principals claiming they made the film as a tribute to the heroes of that awful week in April. Unfortunately, our obsequious local media lacks the nerve to ask Wahlberg and Berg why they invented a fake person to take credit for everything that was accomplished by the folks they’re allegedly honoring.

The few of us who saw Berg and Wahlberg’s $150 million money-loser “Deepwater Horizon” back in October know their formula already: the former-underwear-model-turned-hamburger-salesman plays a flawless-yet-humble salt-of-the-Earth fella who runs around a factually dubious depiction of a tragic event, super-heroically saving the lives of the supporting cast so they can all spend the last ten minutes of the movie thanking him in slow-motion while sad music plays. The narcissism is grotesque. In “Patriots Day,” Wahlberg can’t even walk down the street without people stopping him just to say what a great guy he is. After every big scene, someone in the cast takes a moment to tell Tommy he did a good job, and thanks him for being there.

Davis (played by John Goodman) and DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) defer most of their decisions to the uniformed Sergeant, while future commissioner Bill Evans (James Colby) puts the manhunt on hold for a monologue about “the big haht hiding inside of Tommy Saunders.” The movie spends so much time fellating its bogus hero, were it about an actual living person “Patriots Day” would feel like a North Korean propaganda film. But instead it’s just the tasteless delusions of a vain movie star recreating his hometown’s most horrifying moments so he can dress up and play policeman. A few years ago Wahlberg famously claimed he could have stopped 9/11 if only he had been on one of the planes. These fantasies of inserting himself into national tragedies are something he really should be discussing with a therapist.

“It’s all about love. Love will always beat hate,” Tommy says at one bizarrely unmotivated moment. It’s a sentiment that gets a lot of lip service in a movie that provides very little to back it up. What “Patriots Day” values is brute force. As a filmmaker, Berg’s got an authoritarian streak a mile wide and he loves nothing more than men in uniform. His first Wahlberg team-up, “Lone Survivor” was basically a recruiting ad in which everybody dies, and even a dumb alien invasion movie based on the game “Battleship” in Berg’s hands became a love letter to the United States military.

Here he fetishizes the big black SUVs and long guns, with one shot after another of manly men striding purposefully amongst flashing lights and sirens. After over-scaling the Watertown shootout into a car-flipping extravaganza better suited for a “Fast & Furious” sequel, “Patriots Day” can’t be bothered to question the trampling of civil rights (“No Miranda!” is shouted at one point) and Berg carefully elides the fact that Tsarnaev wasn’t found until after the lockdown was lifted. “Patriots Day” makes martial law look wicked awesome, bro.

Only Blue Lives Matter here, as MIT patrol officer Sean Collier’s murder is teasingly foreshadowed throughout like a snuff film, but the movie can’t spare a single word for victims Krystle Campbell or Luingzi Lu. Martin Richard’s family reportedly requested that his name not be used in the film, so he’s simply referred to as “the eight- year-old dead kid under a blanket.” The filmmakers have no time for civilian heroes like Carlos Arredondo, who you surely remember as the man in the cowboy hat from that iconic finish line photo. Here he’s been erased from history to make more room to celebrate the phony white movie star hero.

Before the closing credits roll, “Patriots Day” tacks on almost ten minutes of interview footage from some of the story’s real-life subjects, all of them offering canned aphorisms that sound over-rehearsed. It feels like a pre-emptive bid for exoneration by the filmmakers, proof they got permission to cash in on a city’s still-tender memories in order to massage the ego of their superstar producer. Without this documentary material, the movie would have ended on a shot of David Ortiz shaking Mark Wahlberg’s hand, the real slugger thanking the fake cop for his heroic service.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 1 out of 5.Over the past seventeen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, The House Next Door, Time Out New York, EntertainmentTell, Philadelphia City Paper and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

About Sean Burns

Sean Burns is a Staff Writer at WBUR's The ARTery. His reviews, interviews and essays have also appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, Time Out New York, Philadelphia City Paper and He stashes them all at

36 thoughts on “Review – Patriots Day

  1. You sir are an idiot, I can’t believe you get paid to write movie reviews. First you give Rogue One a bad review, now Patriots Day–after reading this review, I label you the Trump of movie reviewers. You seem to have a personal vendetta towards Berg and Wahlberg, but you forget to mention that they have actual talent unlike you. You should donate all the money you get from writing movie reviews to charity, because at least it would be going to people who deserve it. You must be angry because you have the skin of a teenager and look about 60 years old–I’d be embarrassed too if I had your skin and looks. So please just go away Mr. Trump-esque movie reviewer, you are a talentless hack. And FYI Free State of Jones, Batman V Superman, and Suicide Squad are the worst movies this year–I can’t wait to become a movie critic just to put you out of a job. At least I won’t bring personal vendettas into any of the movie reviews I eventually am going to write–you come across as childish in this review but I’m not surprised when looking at the awful condition of skin, you sir do not have a face that only a mother can love. So take your pot bellied ugly self and just leave this earth, it would do everybody a service. I hope you read this because I didn’t put a lot of thought into it, and I’m completely correct–it shows I’m way more talented than you as well. So screw you Trump-esque movie reviewer, and I can’t wait to read your mediocre response–but I don’t care if you don’t respond because I don’t care about you, and have better things to do with my life.

    1. “I don’t care if you don’t respond because I don’t care about you, and have better things to do with my life.”

      …says the disgruntled basement-dweller who wrote an essay personally attacking the critic for his (legitimate) opinion. Did Ma bring that meatloaf downstairs for you yet?

    2. Better things to do with your life? Like writing a novel at a movie critic… haha! What a loser. As pathetic as I’ve read in a long time. Go see the movie and stroke yourself to Marky Mark.

  2. this is such a well done review that even if I like the film, am moved by it, this review might still be the correct review if there ever was one

  3. Wow! – just read you for first time, then saw the comment on this review posted on Twitter (“This was nice to wake up to”). Haven’t seen the movie, but review wickedly well written. Whether I ultimately agree, besides the point. You’ve got that biting Maureen Dowd way of lacerating your targets with great wit and phrasing. If I ever make a movie about Boston, will definitely hire you as consultant. Wouldn’t risk not having you on the team : )

  4. SPOT ON. Wahlberg and Berg are ghouls, cashing in on real life tragedies time and time again. Thank you for this review. Wahlberg is in my one of my top ten favorite films of all time, Boogie Nights, but he’s devolved into a joke. He’s either squandered his potential, or PT Anderson took advantage of his shallowness on BN.

  5. Wow. Excellent review. Maybe this is my favorite quote but I had many: “it’s just the tasteless delusions of a vain movie star recreating his hometown’s most horrifying moments so he can dress up and play policeman. A few years ago Wahlberg famously claimed he could have stopped 9/11 if only he had been on one of the planes. These fantasies of inserting himself into national tragedies are something he really should be discussing with a therapist”.How could this have happened? Wahlberg should be banned from Boston. I hope he sees your review. Thank you for voicing what so many, so many of us are thinking.

  6. This is a Hollywood-produced MOVIE. ( entertainment-focused presentation)

    I can’t believe I’m spelling this out…the trailer for the movie clearly stated, “Based on true events”. The key word many are seemingly ignoring is BASED. To base something means to make/form from a starting point.

    The key elements of the storyline (in this case, the Boston Marathon, the bombing & the suspects) are clearly there, and are used as a basis (see, BASIS/BASE) to accommodate other fictional characteristics being integrated into the plot.

    If this were aimed as an all-encompassing true account of every detail involved in this topic, it would then likely be considered a documentary…which this clearly was not marketed as.

    Anyone who’s disappointed in any of the fictitious characteristics presented in this movie should be disappointed in themselves for ignoring the obvious intent of this being a Hollywood-produced movie.

  7. “Everyone involved in this movie should be ashamed of themselves.”

    Well in that case, you are welcome to pay my mortgage when the next project comes which you find objectionable. You may have been referring to the producers and writers, but your statement encompasses the hundreds of local crewmembers who put in thousands of blue-collar hours in order to make our daily bread.

  8. Mr. Wahlberg has for the most part provided the exquisitely impossible avenging angel , angel . This ubiquitous role neatly squeezes the square peg into the character that never quite has any understanding of exactly why people take such precise care of little things , like character , and personality , to the point that the elision of a detail like martial law has the equal force of not washing your hands after you use the toilet . One simply doesn’t ‘go’ on their hands for the purpose of saving water , one washes so that others don’t become sick by simply being your friend .
    Thanks for the review ! Tim Molloy over at “The Wrap” provided the Link .

  9. When I see a really good film, what makes it so good is I feel like I’m there experiencing all. I was actually there (the two bombing scenes & at the finish line) was an extra for 12 hours. Saw the movie last week & something was just “missing”. It did not feel authentic for lack of a better word.

  10. Sharp! Thanks for this review. You know what you are doing. keep it up!
    Bostonian here. Cant bring myself to sit through the punishment of a whitewash of that traumatizing day. Thanks for the thorough warning. I will put it on my”never pay for it” list.

  11. Pure crap of a movie. Just saw it and it’s one of the absolute worst ever. Mark Wahlberg is a horrible, no-talent idiot who represents the worst Boston has to offer. This is the worst thing he has done yet.

  12. I enjoyed reading your review, but personally found some redeeming aspects to this film. There are two movies happening in Patriots Day; one is brilliant, the other mediocre. The docu-drama is top shelf filming. The weak melodrama about the tantrum-prone Sgt Saunders undermines the seriousness of the story and blatantly exploits the real heroes and victims. Lets not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

  13. A friend knew I just watched the movie a while ago, asked me what I thought, and then sent me a link to Burns’ review. I wrote this to him, then came back and read the comments – so I thought I’d share MY thoughts of Burns’ review:

    “Meh. I’ve watched the movie, and I read Sean Burns’ review. People like what they like. Burns didn’t like it – I did. But let me give you my review of Burns’ review:

    He sounds like a frustrated, pissed off, supremely self-absorbed and arrogant ass who has more of a problem with Mark Wahlberg than the actual movie (for the record – I liked “Deep Water Horizon” too, and I like Mark Wahlberg, because *escapism.* He does what I *want* him to do – make me think crazy shit is doable).

    I don’t know if Burns’ issue with Wahlberg is that he’s pissed Marky Mark is so successful, or maybe he has a repressed man-crush on him, and is mad because he know he’ll never get there. I don’t care. I don’t really give a shit what Sean Burns thinks – I liked the movie. Were parts over-the-top? Absolutely. But I don’t expect Citizen Kane every time I press play.

    I *can* answer one thing for him, however – as should *anyone* in the dramatic arts (or an actual writer) would be able to, if he’d care to take the time to actually ask or find out.

    When he says, “Unfortunately, our obsequious local media lacks the nerve to ask Wahlberg and Berg why they invented a fake person to take credit for everything that was accomplished by the folks they’re allegedly honoring” – that’s pretty fucking easy, elementary and straightforward.

    A fictional character that is an amalgam of several or even many characters is often used as a plot device when you have a limited time to tell a complicated story, for several reasons. One, it’s hard to introduce a large number of key characters and have the audience/reader/viewer be able to keep them all straight in their head. Two, it’s hard to build a character arc for a bunch of different characters that your audience/reader/viewer will able to understand and identify with emotionally without writing something the length of War and Peace.There are more reasons, but I’m trying to not write War and Peace.”

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