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Patriots Day reviews: Mark Wahlberg, Peter Berg's Boston Marathon bombing film screens at AFI

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Karen Ballard

In 2013, director Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg teamed up for Lone Survivor, a film about a Navy SEAL mission gone wrong. Last month, they followed up with Deepwater Horizon, about a different kind of American hero. Their latest collaboration, Patriots Day, tackles even more difficult subject matter: the Boston Marathon bombings that shook the city. 

The film screened at AFI Fest on Thursday night with a Special Closing Night Gala Presentation, and the first reviews from critics have been largely positive. While most praise the ensemble cast, the attention to detail, and the drumming score, the final moments of the film — a string of interviews with the real survivors of the tragedy — are what elevate the film beyond its lack of deeper complexicities. 

In addition to Wahlberg, Patriots Day features a cast that includes Michelle Monaghan, J.K. Simmons, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, and Melissa Benoist. The film attempts to pay tribute to the real heroes who responded to the events and the spirit of a city that survived. 

Read some of the early reviews of Patriots Day below before it hits theaters — first in select locations on Dec. 21, followed by a wide release on Jan. 13.  

Sheri Linden (The Hollywood Reporter)

“Berg recreates the marathon explosions themselves with full-frontal pandemonium, a confusion of blood and noise as limbs are severed and families are torn apart, rushed to separate hospitals. While Tobias A. Schliessler’s restless camerawork expertly evokes the unspeakable panic and confusion, it can also feel self-consciously kinetic…Yet however technically proficient the movie, however heartfelt its admiration for everyone who worked feverishly to contain the damage, nothing in the narrative proves remotely as affecting as the documentary footage and interviews that Berg includes at film’s end. Some stories don’t require special effects.”

Steve Greene (Indiewire)

“Berg’s film is most effective when it recognizes that heroism doesn’t come from bombastic shows of force or grand pronouncements, but the assured execution of a given task when the moment demands it most. The film’s falsest moments come from characters seemingly convinced that their words will someday populate the pages of a Hollywood screenplay. Far more engaging are the cacophonous overlaps of investigative efficiency, when dutiful employees have only enough room to add their part to an ever-increasing flow of investigative information. Similarly, Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor’s score does best when its digital pulse complements the natural hum of the tension on screen.”

Peter DeBruge (Variety)

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. It’s also a sober homage from Boston native Mark Wahlberg, who produced alongside Deepwater Horizon director Peter Berg, chasing an opportunity to chase that true-story energy that fueled their earlier 2013 collaboration Lone Survivor.”

Lanre Bakare (The Gaurdian)

“The tension that slowly builds as the inevitable finally happens is brilliantly wrought, with the score – provided by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – proving a swelling drone which creeps up and peaks in all the right places. Even though we’re all aware that two bombs are going to explode, somehow, when they do, it’s still a surprise. From there Berg holds his camera up to the carnage. Limbs are shown strewn across the finish line; legs are almost completely torn from bodies, and the camera which dwells on the body of an eight-year-old victim.”

Alonso Duralde (The Wrap)

Patriots Day doesn’t offer much complexity; it’s not interested in why the bombers committed this act, and it doesn’t want to dig too deeply into the mechanisms by which they were captured (apart from one moment where Tommy notes that they’ve been ordered not to read Miranda rights to the second bomber if and when he’s captured). Still, as a retelling of a tragedy that had its moments of heroism among uniformed personnel and indefatigable civilians alike, it gets the job done.”

Jeff Sneider (Mashable)

“Berg has never really been given his due by critics, who have dismissed the action-oriented filmmaker as the thinking man’s Michael Bay. Make no mistake, Berg’s work on Patriots Day is right up there with Paul Greengrass’ Bloody Sunday and United 93. Both gripping and heartbreaking, this film is even better than the director’s last two collaborations with Wahlberg — Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon. Maybe I’m biased because I’m from Boston, and maybe I threw in the word “maybe” to throw you off the scent, but you’ll have to write my editor about that one.”