In this movie about the bombs that went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon of 2013, what surprises you is the kind of damage that ordinary pressure cookers can do when they are turned into deadly weapons with the simplest of home technology. Making them is as easy as following a recipe on a TV cooking program
The movie emphasizes the sheer ordinariness of that lovely morning on April 15. People are waking up early to get ready for the marathon. The Police are assembled at the finish line, not for security reasons, but to line up for the important dignitaries expected. The naiveté of the Tsarnaev brothers, too, is evoked, as they casually watch a video on an Islamic site that gives you a step-by-step instruction on the bomb making system. The older brother is clearly the leader, adored by the younger, and the two watch the monitor, as the wife and daughter wander around the kitchen, in that early morning state of slow wakefulness.
What is also extraordinary is the unpreparedness of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze) for the consequences of their dramatic act of terrorism. They behave as though they are simply going to some sort of political meet, raising slogans on their preferred agenda, and then going home after leaving their bags at the location. The distinctive and identifiable style of wearing his cap doesn’t seem to have struck Dzhokhar as something that can be picked up by CCTV cameras. Nor do the brothers seem to have got any notion of the thousands of cameras that will be at the finish line of a marathon. When the manhunt begins and the city shuts down, they seem rather shocked. Their youth and their inexperience, and the ease of their indoctrination, comes through well in the movie.
But this is a feature film, and not a documentary, and so the elements of a thriller are inserted, post the explosions. The action shifts to the pro-active Police Sergeant who knows Boston like the back of his hand, Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg), and the friction he causes by his impulsive interjections in the presence of the FBI special agent (Kevin Bacon). So far so good. Unfortunately, thereafter, the choice of a linear narrative to follow sequences like a blood trail does not seem to be the right one.
The result is a sense of deja vu that envelops you as you watch Patriot’s Day. For an American, for a patriot, and for someone who connects to the character of the city of Boston, this film would be an emotive experience. But what the rest of the world sees, in stark and clear terms, is the typical US over-reaction to events. These are impressionable immigrant boys, unfortunately exposed to an extremist ideology that turns them into killers, but the bombings and their aftermath are seen in this film in unequivocal terms of triumphalism; as the victory of good over evil; and as if to say that the city of Boston has provided necessary redemption.
In short, Patriot’s Day is the unexceptional Hollywood film that is brought out every now and then to broach the subject of patriotism. It has none of the shades of grey, and nothing of the psychological study that was ’Sully’, a movie on a pilot who made a perfect landing on the Hudson, and thereby demonstrated the combination of intelligence, sense of duty, intuition and decisiveness, that makes for a genuine American hero.