(Disclaimer: Spoiler warning for Patriots Day below)
Peter Berg's latest film Patriots Day, depicts the real life events of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing. Before filming even began, people were concerned about the film's subject, considering the bombing happened a little over 3 years ago. This film was supposed to be about the strength and heroism that the residents of Boston showed on that day. Instead, it catered more to Mark Wahlberg than the real people that this film was trying to represent.
Watch the trailer for Patriot's Day below:
While the film does shine a light on the real heroes of this tragedy, it also does something that may seem questionable in the eyes of many — skewing the line between fiction and history. The most notable example of this is the inclusion of Mark Wahlberg's character, Sergeant Tommy Saunders.
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Wahlberg's Promise To Handle The Tragedy With Care
Since Patriots Day was announced, people have argued that it was too soon to tackle the events that took place during the Boston Marathon in 2013. During the time of the shooting, Mark Wahlberg was quoted as saying this to the Boston Globe:
"The wounds are far from healed, but I realized if the wrong type of person came in and made this, it could have turned out to be extremely gratuitous. I knew a lot of the responsibility was going to be on my shoulders. But I pride myself on being able to go home and show my face, so I wanted to get it right, you know?"
This is a noble sentiment from Wahlberg, who over the years has always positioned himself as being the proudest actor who hails from Boston. However, when you look at what Mark Wahlberg did in the film, and how he was in every key event; it appears that he may have cared more about his own celebrity, than telling the real story of the Boston Marathon Bombing.
The Creation Of Sergeant Tommy Saunders
Mark Wahlberg's character, Sergeant Tommy Saunders, is more or less the centerpiece of the film. Saunders is given a backstory, a wife, and relationships with all of the people who were actually involved in the events that took place that day.
However, unlike the other brave men and women, Tommy Saunders is not based on anyone. Instead, he is supposed to be a composite character of a number of police officers on that day. This sounds fine in theory, but in execution, it only seems to serve the purpose of having Mark Wahlberg on screen.
The Hero That Doesn't Exist
It would be one thing if Mark Wahlberg's character was an every-man, someone who helps guide us through the events, but instead, Sgt. Saunders is basically the hero of the film.
Once the two bombs detonate, Saunders is the unifying force that rallies the BPD together, and provides structure during the chaos. Following that, Wahlberg's character becomes actively involved in the investigation, to the point where he begins to step on the toes of the FBI and BPD officials that were actually involved on that day.
Sgt. Saunders continues to pop up throughout, even during the shoot-out with the Tsarnaev brothers, and unsurprisingly, he also ends up being the first person on the scene when they finally locate Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff). By the end of the film, you begin to question why the fictionalized character of Sgt. Saunders deserved a place in the film at all.
Peter Bergs's Intentions
Peter Bergs's intention when approaching the project was to tell a story that he felt needed to be told. In a interview with PBS News, Berg had this to say about why he chose to do a film about the Boston Marathon bombing:
"To me, the Boston Marathon is a pretty profound moment in American history. And the lessons that can be learned from the way that community came together, from the way the police and the FBI worked together so effectively to solve that crime is something, I think, worth examining."
Berg then went on to explain how he felt he accomplished what he set out to do, and how the actual events of that day were enough to push the film along without exaggeration:
"I felt that, if we got it right, if we just told the truth, we wouldn’t have to worry about Hollywood drama, or we wouldn’t have to worry about action or tension or plot twists or heroism, or any of the things that I guess you look for in a traditional Hollywood story. We felt, from the research we did, that there was plenty of inspiration and drama to be told."
His sentiment is understandable and true for the most part. The level of heroism and bravery displayed during the bombing, was more than enough drama to tell a thorough and intriguing story. However, when Berg shoved Mark Wahlberg's character into the story the way he did, he actually amplified the "Hollywood drama" he was trying to avoid.
The Moral Implications
The picture above is of Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky, who were actual survivors of the Boston Marathon Bombing. Now, they are in the film, but I couldn't have told you their names if I hadn't seen them at the end of the film. This is exactly the problem with Peter Berg's portrayal of Mark Wahlberg in the film. His presence overshadows the real people that Patriots Day is supposed to be remembering.
Peter Berg wanted to tell this story, and so, understandably, he took some creative licence in the way that he went about it. The problem is though, when you splice fictional events with real life ones that are still fresh in everyone's minds, the true story that you are trying to tell can be lost in the ether.
I totally understand that Sgt. Tommy Saunders is supposed to be a composite character, and that he is supposed to embody the collective police presence on that day. However, that is not what Sgt. Saunders is. He is a pivotal character, who has a intricate backstory - complete with a family and a bad knee - and he is injected into an event that rocked the entire city of Boston to its core.
Out of all the actors in the film, Mark Wahlberg definitely had the most screen time - so much so, that it is obvious that he was there just to be the star. I know that films are meant for entertainment, and not for educational purposes, but there has to be a line drawn when it comes to fabricating characters in order to heighten the drama. More than that, it is disrespectful to all of the officers and emergency personnel who bravely responded that day, in the sense that all of the BPD competency seemed to hinge on the presence of Mark Wahlberg's character.
When it comes down to it, the people whose lives were affected that day and the people that help bring the Tsarnaev bothers to justice, should be the focal point of this story. The people of Boston united, and together found a way past the tragedy that befell them on April 15, 2013. This film could have been a beacon of hope, one that shined a light on these brave strong men and women, but instead, it ended up revolving more around Mark Wahlberg, and his ever-rising star power.
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