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Monday night the HBO doc on the Boston Marathon bombings aired, and on the same night I got to see the Hollywood version of the story, made by Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg, the third of their recent movies together (following Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon). It hones in on the bombings – how they were carried out, and the aftermath of how the authorities worked to find the men responsible.
It’s been 3 years since the two bombs went off at the finish line of the world’s oldest marathon, and there may be never be a good enough time to bring a movie to the big screen about those days in April 2013, but this is the first of two. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Stronger, based on the account of Jeff Bauman, also arrives early next year. And actually, given where America finds itself today in a new Trump era, the timing of Patriots Day’s heartfelt rally call works well.
There’s a good balance between the action – which unfolds akin to Zero Dark Thirty, a tense play-by-play of the hunt for the suspects, the Tsarnaev brothers, played by Alex Wolff (uncanny resemblance to Dzokhar) and Themo Melikidze (his first role), and the emotion. Stories of three of the victims who suffered the loss of their limbs are weaved in, as well as those of two others who were involved in the events that followed the bombings, in a script that Berg co-wrote.
Mark Wahlberg plays a composite character, based on two police officers who were working the marathon that day. It’s such a strong cast – rounded out by Kevin Bacon, who plays FBI agent Richard DesLauriers, John Goodman, who plays Commissioner Ed Harris, JK Simmons, who plays Watertown Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese, and Melissa Benoist, who takes on the part of Tamerlan’s wife Katherine Russell. Mark spoke afterwards about how proud he is of the film, and he can be proud of the cast too. He’s in fine form as he embodies the Boston ethos – hard-headed but hard-working, potty-mouthed but persevering.
Listening to him talk about the film during the Q-and-A afterwards, you could hear the reverence Mark holds for his hometown, where he admits, he often found himself on the wrong side of the law in his youth.
I asked him and Peter how they decided on which victims’ stories to include in the film. Peter said they reached out to those who were seriously injured and started talking to them. “People were not jumping up and down to be involved in this,” he said. Some he said, agreed and then later backed out and they made adjustments accordingly. “We worked very closely with Patrick Downes and his wife, Jessica, and Steve Woolfenden.” Newlyweds Patrick and Jessica are a large part of the HBO doc, and her story in particular shows how difficult the path to recovery has been. Peter says they showed edits of the film to them and even gave them final cut, just to make sure they were happy with how everything was presented.
But as Mark himself put it: “When you’re talking about the worst day of somebody’s life they’re never going to be happy and love what they’re seeing.” Patriots Day honours them, and the spirit that brought people together afterwards – a tribute to what it means to be ‘Boston Strong.’ “It gives me great pride to present my hometown and show how people were coming together, running towards a problem, not away from it,” he said. “To share that message with the world, that’s what this is about. We continue to deal with this all over the world – these things are still happening – but we will always win and be victorious. And I know that we made them [the victims] proud. To say people are happy is an impossible feat, but I hope, day by day, they will continue to heal, and I know that we made everybody proud.”
Proud and strong, indeed. Hopefully, in running the Boston Marathon next year I, too, can add to what it means to Boston Strong.
Patriots Day releases on December 21 2016.