If you happen to be a movie character and find yourself near Mark Wahlberg these days, you had best duck and cover.
Fresh off of "Deepwater Horizon," in which he played a daring oil rig worker who goes beyond his job description to save as many people as possible while getting to the bottom of the mystery of why the rig exploded, he's now in "Patriots Day," in which he plays a daring cop who goes beyond his job description to save as many people as possible while getting to the bottom of the mystery of who bombed the Boston Marathon.
Although Wahlberg was as strong as usual in "Deepwater Horizon," he takes his performance to another level in "Patriots Day," no doubt driven by his personal connection to the material due to his Boston heritage. Three people perished in the 2013 tragedy, that shook the community to its core but managed to galvanize the wounded in a "Boston Strong" movement.
There was plenty of opportunity to pander to that mentality with a corny, violen-swelling Movie of the Week, but director Peter Berg wisely sticks with hard-boiled, spare storytelling, avoiding easy opportunities to force empathy and emotion by sticking to the raw energy stemming from the frenzied hunt for the bombers.
Kevin Bacon and John Goodman play higher-ups who orchestrate the workmanlike manhunt, which sweeps a dragnet over the city, scrapping together clues with cell phone and security camera sweeps, witness grilling and scene-scouring. Wahlberg is a beat cop who flavors the investigation with street smarts.
Rather than turning Wahlberg's character into an invulnerable superhero, he's simply a cog in a humming machine that works with cool efficiency to track down the killers. Berg's eye for detail and proclivity for sifting through thousands of interlocked stories to sift out the brightest, most invigorating vignettes and shaping them into a consistent story helps his film rise above the level of sentimental slop. He even takes a somewhat empathetic eye to the bombers, peeking into their backgrounds and twisted motivations rather than blacking them out as shapeless boogeymen.
"Patriots Day" works with the vigor and momentum of a weeknight crime expose, thoroughly educating while never failing to entertain. While there is no joy in reliving one of the nation's most grim moments of the decade, the film is a satisfying exercise in heartache and tribute to the kernels of heart that blossomed into heroism in so many unsuspecting people, lining that dark day with a shimmering light.
RATING: 3 stars out of 4.