Patriots Day: Dramatic thriller

Film: Patriots Day

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, John Goodman, Themo Melikidze, Alex Wolff  

Director: Peter Berg

What is a prototypical jihadi? This is the question posed by a character in this tense thriller about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings which killed three spectators and wounded more than 260 people, many of whom lost their limbs. Unlike Pontius Pilate, the “Patriots Day” character waits for an answer as director Berg and a talented ensemble cast skilful recreates the horror of the attack and the manhunt for the terrorists.

So, what is a prototypical jihadi? Wish I could say Elementary, my dear reader. Because there is no such thing. Period. Only consider the trajectory of jihadists from the Hamburg University educated Saudi engineers and economically backward, semi literate Indians enlisted with ISIS to radicalised American citizens Tamerlane (Themo Melikidze) and Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff) Tsarnaev who carried out the Boston bombings. As per their twisted reasoning, 9/11 was the handiwork of the US government and the men who flew the airplanes into the World Trade Centre were “actors.” America is also blamed for Muslim fatalities just about everywhere.

Expertly co-written by Berg with Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer, Patriots Day traverses the Boston bombings through various viewpoints, predominantly the fictional character of police officer Tommy Saunders played by Mark Wahlberg who was raised in Boston and re-teams with Berg for the third time after blockbusters Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon.

April 15 is a pivotal day for Bostonians as the viewer sees the city gearing up for the sports event held annually on the titular holiday that bonds citizens with marathoners from the world over. The camera makes us privy to emotional sharing of young husband and wife Patrick Downes (Christopher O’Shea) and Jessica Kensky (Rachel Brosnahan) as well as Chinese app designer Dun Me and the object of his affections. For Sgt Saunders, it means traipsing around town with a bad leg in the early morning, leaving much loved wife, Carol (Michelle Monaghan).

Suicide bombers are promised 72 virgins. What are the rewards for the wife of mujahid? A government interrogator wants to know from Tamerlane’s hijab-clad wife Katherine, who refuses to respond to the legendary greeting, Salaam alaikum. Katherine believes Hell awaits the non-submissive wife. Just as Hell is full of ungrateful women, if a hadith is anything to go by. Katherine leads a narrow domesticated existence in the confines of their apartment. Even the milk for their lovely daughter is purchased from the store by brother-in-law Dzokhar who seems to be in a perpetual drug haze, just like his room-mates at upscale Dartmouth University (whose roster boasts award winning author Salil Tripathi, among others)

Maybe the substance-ingestion had something to do with it, or maybe they were just morally challenged, but Tzokhar’s room-mates actually obstructed police investigation. That the criminal-minded enthusiastically embrace a life denying world view comes as a no surprise to ordinary people caught in the cross-fire between the good, the bad and the ugly. Or, since jihadists do not discriminate, the common man is the intended target. Husbands are separated from their wives, fathers from podgy babies. The camera is unsparing in its depiction of the carnage. Severed feet. Limbs strew the sidewalks.

On the run in a stolen Mercedes SUV, Tzhokhar tells Tamerlane the home-made bombs should have been placed higher, it is a particularly vicious evil which attacks ordinary people engaged in recreational activity, be it sports or music.

Patriots Day incorporates archival footage of former president Barack Obama with inter-agency conflict between FBI Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon), and Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman). They are a dedicated lot who have to thank Meng for helping them with crucial information to foil the demented duo’s plans to drive to New York for a new attack. “Patriots Day” salutes the spirit and resilience of Bostonians with all people everywhere afflicted by the scourge of terrorism. In the end, “Patriots Day” posits that hate and evil can only be overcome by love and perseverance.

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