Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Boston Bombing Movie: Patriots' Day

Written & Edited by Benjamin Levesque

    The Boston Marathon is a prestigious running race, carried out every Patriots’ Day, the day each American citizen looks back upon the first battles for America fought at Lexington and Concord. On April 15, 2013, the 117th running of the Boston Marathon was under way: crowds along the route (beginning from Hopkinton, MA and ending on Boylston St, Boston, MA) cheered with pride and support for those running. With a total of 23,000 participants, the marathon commenced at 10:00 A.M., and the atmosphere of the event reached a sensational peak. All throughout the race the air was patriotic, heavy with cries of admiration for those attempting the 26.2 mile feat. After nearly two hours and ten minutes, Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia crossed the finish line as the men’s winner; Rita Jeptoo of Kenya was the first of the female runners to complete the race, coming in only sixteen minutes after Desisa.

Movie poster for the promotion of Patriots’ Day, directed by Peter Berg, starring Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, John Goodman, and Michelle Monaghan. The film was officially released on December 21, 2016. Source: IMDb Patriots’ Day page.
     At approximately 2:49 that afternoon, with more than 5,600 runners still competing, two pressure-cooker bombs, filled with shrapnel and other damaging materials, went off near the finish line within second of each other (near ground-level). The chaos ensued as runners and police alike scrambled to make sense of the situation. Of spectators near the finish line three were killed, with more than 260 wounded. Due to the placement of the bombs and their contents, more than fifteen lost their legs, the youngest of whom was a 7 year-old girl. At that moment America’s history changed, as the strength of Boston was tested following the investigation of the bombing and the subsequent arrests of Muslim extremists Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (their actions were not connected to the activities of terrorist organizations in other countries). What happened that day left a mark on the American people, especially those affected by the events in Boston, which is why it astounded me to discover that Patriots’ Day, directed by Peter Berg, was being released on January 13, 2016.

    I went to see the film in mid-January, and the introduction to the story began with Sgt. Tommy Saunders (a fictional character portrayed by Mark Wahlberg), who is assigned to the finish line of the Boston Marathon after coming back from some injuries in the line of duty. Along with this are several seemingly disconnected subplots, with exposition of several people that would become important to the story later (all based loosely on real people surrounding the events), showing what brought them to the marathon and giving the audience a feeling of authenticity towards the original story. It also opens up with Chinese immigrant Dun Meng (played by Jimmy O. Yang), speaking with his parents about his new Mercedes SUV.
    The events of the movie followed the same course as the true Bombings, with fine details such as the moment of silence before the marathon in recognition of the Newtown shooting’s twenty-six fatalities (at the time of the marathon). The story followed the Tsarnaev brothers as they planted the bombs at the finish line, stowed away in backpacks, followed by the massive investigation for their crimes. The film covered several crucial points in the progression of the case: Dzhokhar’s college roommates finding bomb materials in his college dormitory (which they kept secret for fear of persecution, to be persecuted after the fact for not relinquishing evidence), Dun Meng’s fateful escape from the brothers after being carjacked and driven to a gas station, and a violent shootout on a Watertown street. The movie concluded after Tamerlan (the older Tsarnaev brother) was run over by his younger brother in an attempt to escape the shootout; Dzhokhar was later found in a local resident’s boat and has been charged with the death penalty (he is currently awaiting appeal).

Dun Meng’s account on his part in the movie, supplied by Esquire.com’s article on the film’s authenticity, “My part was very accurate. From the beginning, running, how I met those two brothers, and how I jumped out of the car and called the police, it's pretty much the same. We had long conversations before shooting the movie, what are the details, how I feel, what I was thinking about, those kind of things. They really wanted to figure it out, how it actually happened. I think a lot of people don't know this part of the story before they see the movie.” Source: CBS Films.

    Following the fade-to-black typical of most films today, was something I wasn’t quite expecting. The final ten minutes of the film contained statements from various real life counterparts to characters in the movie: some were survivors of the bombing, such as Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, married seven months previous, who both lost their left leg below the knee, and others were professionals on the case, such as Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (portrayed by Vincent Curatola). The end credits involved footage of the thank you bestowed upon the men and women who responded to the incident, closing with notes of remembrance for the three victims fatally wounded in the bombing (and those killed by the brothers during their search): Lu Lingzi, Krystle Campbell, Officer Sean Collier, and eight year-old Martin Richard.

    After the completion of the film, the entire audience sat in silence. I do not exaggerate when I say that for sixty seconds following the end credits, not a sound was made, nor a muscle moved. Everyone in the theater sat and absorbed what they had seen, which, according to two moviegoers I questioned nearby, the piece was “powerful” and “beautiful, having seen what the survivors came back from after the events.”  Initially I had my doubts about a film, which I believe may have misconstrued the true nature of a serious event in America’s history -- one so recent I can still remember being in New York on April vacation, looking out across the streets at night when the first reports from the bombings came in. However, this movie was genuine in its effect (granted the movie does include excessive use of harsh language and some gore), and had me completely convinced that what I thought before entering the theater wasn’t true. That given the right light and proper direction, a movie could and had captured an American tragedy, and paid tribute remarkably well.

    In an article with Entertainment Weekly, Mark Wahlberg addresses the concern that the film may have been too soon, stating that, “If you went by what the media was saying, yes, absolutely, nobody wanted it. But in having an opportunity to go into the community, seeing how people responded, how excited they were… everybody felt the same way. They wanted to make sure we were going to do the right thing.” Misguided at first, I believe this is a film people needed to see, whether it be to fully comprehend the range of damage that resulted from these brutal attacks, or to at least get a vestige of the emotional trauma and triumph as a final result. In the midst of terror and uncertainty, the city’s men and women rose up and proved their strength. In no uncertain terms the Boston Marathon Bombing exemplifies the stamina of a city and its nation, watching in awe as Boston itself was shut down, and the aftermath of the explosions at the finish line commenced. Patriots’ Day does not take the event for granted, nor does it embellish the severity of the incident disproportionately -- it serves to the motto which has grown from the tragedy that day, one which can be felt even after the film’s fade to black among those in the audience: Boston Strong.

Works Cited:

www.history.com. “Boston Marathon Bombings.” www.history.com. A&E Television
    Networks, LLC, n.d. Web. 19 Jan 2017.

www.imdb.com. “Patriots Day (2016).” www.imdb.com. IMDb.com, Inc, n.d. Web.
    19 Jan 2017.

O’ Neil, Luke. “What Patriot’s Day Got Right About the Boston Bombing Aftermath.”
    www.esquire.com. Hearst Communications, Inc, 13 Jan 2017. Web. 19 Jan 2017.

Baker, K.C. “A Married Couple Reveals Their Years-Long Recovery from the Boston
    Marathon Bombing.” people.com. Time Inc, 21 Nov 2016. Web. 19 Jan 2017.

Franich, Darren. “Pledging Allegiance.” Entertainment Weekly, 13 Jan. 2017, pp. 17.


  1. Now, I want to see the movie too. Well done!

  2. I saw the movie and the crowd was silent afterwards too.