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Watching a Hollywood version of a Boston tragedy

Mark Wahlberg in "Patriots Day."CBS Films

The reenactment of the attack was the most difficult scene for Cynthia Smith, too reminiscent of her memories of Marathon Monday, when bombs exploded across the street, one to either side. She closed her eyes in the theater, cried, and didn’t see much of the bombing scene in “Patriots Day,” the Mark Wahlberg film about the 2013 Boston bombing, which Smith saw Tuesday night.

Once the bombing scene was over, she was able to get back into the story, and found the experience of seeing the film less traumatic than she had anticipated. The movie tried too hard to humanize the bombers, the Tsarnaev brothers, she said, but she appreciated the behind-the-scenes look at the workings of investigators as they hunted the killers.


“I think because I have such a close emotional attachment to that day, I don’t think I could watch the movie and think of it as pure entertainment,” Smith said.

She’s glad to have seen it, but once is enough, for now; maybe she’ll see it again with her kids someday. “I hold onto a lot of anxiety from that day that I don’t need to keep reliving.”

The movie opened this week, just three years after the attack near the finish line of Boston’s famous footrace killed three and injured more than 260. During a vast police manhunt for the bombers, the Tsarnaev brothers also murdered MIT police Officer Sean Collier. Several early reviews of the film have been positive; the Globe review called it “slickly heartfelt” but “unnecessary.”

Jerry Porter of Duxbury heard interviews about the film on the radio and decided to see it Wednesday afternoon.

“I just loved it,” he said. “I thought they were incredibly respectful of the actual event. I thought it was wonderful that they didn’t dwell on the morbidity.”


Paula Power saw the film at the AMC Boston Common. She’s from Canada, but her husband comes to Boston often on business.

“I remembered being glued to my television,” she said, of the 2013 events. “I thought the movie was very well done.” She added that she “learned a few things” about the investigation.

Lesley Henderson of Newton, who saw an afternoon showing at the Boston Common theater, said she trusted Wahlberg with the story because he’s from Boston. Asked about the timing of the movie, Henderson said, “I thought it was a little soon, but I wasn’t put out by it.” She paused and added that for the family of Martin Richard, who was 8 when he was killed in one of the blasts, “it might be very difficult.”

Richard “Dic” Donohue, a former MBTA Transit Police officer wounded during a shootout with the bombers in Watertown, said Wednesday he has seen the movie and remains conflicted about it.

“It’s a tough call,” he said. “I know it will inspire people. It will definitely show some positive sides, some human sides of police officers. At the same time, you want everything to be so perfect and share everybody’s story.

“For me, on a personal level having known Sean Collier and who he was, it’s tough to put that into a movie in just two hours. Especially his loss and what that triggered. Not only were officers looking for the Boston Marathon bombers, but we had just lost one of our own. I don’t think anything can fully replicate what that truly meant to everybody who was working.”


He said he is disappointed the film did not include Boston police Officer Dennis Simmonds, who was injured when a bomb exploded near him during the confrontation with the Tsarnaev brothers, and who died a year later. A medical panel later found that his death “was the natural and proximate result of an injury sustained during the course of his employment,” the Globe has reported.

Mark Arsenault can be reached at mark.arsenault@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark.