We saw ‘Patriots Day.’ We have questions.
Because they lived through the events of April 15, 2013, and the days that followed, Bostonians are bound to scrutinize “Patriots Day” more closely than moviegoers elsewhere. And thanks to social media — Twitter and Facebook, in particular — everyone’s got a platform to post an opinion, no matter how uninformed it might be. What does director Peter Berg get right in telling the story of the Boston Marathon bombings and what doesn’t he? We’ll let viewers decide, but here are a few questions we had after watching the film:
HIM AGAIN? There are several real-life people whose stories are part of “Patriots Day,” but the star, played by Mark Wahlberg, is an invented character, a composite of police officers who were at the finish line when the two bombs went off and later aided in the manhunt. Why was it necessary to create a fictional character in a movie that professes to be a truthful account of the bombings? Wahlberg’s Sergeant Tommy Saunders — a cop name if there ever was one — is the Zelig of “Patriots Day.” The guy shows up everywhere and at the pivotal moment: He’s at the finish line; he’s at the gas station on Memorial Drive with Dun Meng; he’s at the shootout in Watertown; he’s got his gun aimed at the boat in David Henneberry’s backyard; he shakes hands with Red Sox slugger David Ortiz at Fenway Park. We’re not sure how many cops Wahlberg’s character is supposed to be, but it’s a lot.
TOO EXPLOSIVE? The firefight between police and the Tsarnaevs that took place in Watertown four days after the bombings was fierce — a chaotic, night-time gun battle during which MBTA officer Richard Donohue was wounded. But in “Patriots Day,” the scene also includes a series of thunderous explosions — with Hollywood-style pyrotechnics — that send police cruisers flying into the air, shatter windows in nearby homes, and light up the sky. I don’t recall reading about a half-dozen pipe bombs being thrown. At the recent red-carpet premiere of “Patriots Day,” we asked Watertown police Sergeant Jeff Pugliese if that’s the way it went down that night. “I think it’s pretty accurate,” he said. “From the first officers on scene pulling up and getting shot at and then my arrival, Pete [Berg] made sure he got this right.”
DID SHE KNOW? “Patriots Day” leaves the clear impression that Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s wife, North Kingston, R.I., native Katherine Russell, knew about the bombings in advance, or should have, and then protected her husband when she was questioned afterward by a female FBI agent wearing a hijab. In the interrogation scene, which is worthy of an episode of “CSI,” Russell is asked if there are any more bombs. She refuses to answer. Pressed, Russell says, “I want a lawyer. . . . I have rights.” The FBI agent shakes her head and mutters: “You ain’t got [expletive], sweetheart.” We’re not sure if any of that was said in real life, but at a screening we attended in Los Angeles, the audience roared their approval, cheering loudly when Russell was dissed. It’s fair to wonder, if the depiction of Russell is accurate, why she was never charged.
Local folks may find plenty to quibble with in “Patriots Day” and that’s OK. Like every Hollywood film set in Boston, this one features a few characters with questionable accents. Actor John Goodman, for example, who plays former police commissioner Ed Davis, speaks with a drawl you might hear in New Orleans, but probably not on Newbury Street. And there’s an unintentionally funny scene in which Wahlberg’s character seems to be the only person who knows what businesses are near the finish line. He becomes the Boylston Street Whisperer, closing his eyes and conjuring the locations of Abe & Louie’s, Crate and Barrel, and the Back Bay Social Club. But none of that is the point of “Patriots Day.” Berg has made a well-intentioned, if not 100 percent factual film that honors the victims, celebrates survivors, and reminds all of us what an incredibly sad and scary time that was.