BY ROGER THOMAS
Last September, director Peter Berg’s “Deepwater Horizon” opened in theaters across the country. I have liked some of Berg’s films; “Friday Night Lights” being my favorite. I also liked the television series that followed the film. When “Horizon” came out I had a conversation after the screening with two other critics. Both of them were very enthusiastic, calling “Horizon” one of the best films of the year. I liked the film, but I knew there were better films from the first eight months of 2016 and that there would be better films in the last four months of the year. I just did not know that one of those films would also come from Peter Berg.
Make no mistake, Peter Berg’s best film of 2016 is “Patriots Day.”
“Patriots Day” tells the story of the bombing of the Boston Marathon in 2013. The film offers glimpses of some of those who are getting ready to run in the marathon and eventually do. The film also depicts some individuals who planned to be spectators for the big event. Then there are those who sought to secure the event and make it a safe environment. The stories of the two men, or really one man and one boy, are also shown. Then there are the many, many people who helped apprehend those two, who brought terror to what should have been a celebratory sporting event. That is a lot of characters in a two hour and thirteen minute movie, but the gifted screenwriters, Berg, Matt Cook, and Joshua Zetumer, succeed in telling this complex story completely.
There are many technical accomplishments in this film. Creating the scene of the race depended on a great many technicians. But that is just one example in a film that impresses often. The temporary headquarters for the agents of “Home Land Security” is quite a setting. But the most profound moment has to be when Boston locks down, no traffic allowed, and the city looks like a ghost town. There are many more than these three locations create a feeling of all that happened in a few short days when a city was on high alert.
Then there are the cast members. All the actors are distinguishable which is important with the wealth of characters in “Patriots Day.” Much is learned by the audience as we eavesdrop on conversations, all that is needed to be known and understood. Also the positions and desires of the major players come into very clear focus. Both the actions and the words clarify so much for the audience.
Among all the occurrences in this film, two things shine brightest to me. Near the end of the film Mark Wahlberg’s character, Tommy Saunders, has an eloquent speech about hate. In these times of terrorism there is a lot of hate in our world. Saunders does not excuse the evil acts of those who choose violence, but he does hope that love and compassion will one day eclipse hate and violence. That is the most powerful moment in the film.
Then right before the end credits roll, the director makes a smart decision. He shows some of the real survivors of the marathon attack. Hearing their own words of the events they survived is very powerful.
On a personal note, there was one survivor who lost her leg in the explosion aftermath. As an amputee from car accident, I was moved by her words. She said, “I miss my leg every day, but I have a life to live.” I, for one, knows what she means.
“Deepwater Horizon” is a fine film that tells an important story. On the other hand, “Patriots Day” tells an important story in a most powerful way. I am hoping that Peter Berg has two more in him for 2017.
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.