Patriots Day

January 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman
Directed by: Peter Berg (“Lone Survivor,” “Deepwater Horizon”)
Written by: Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”) Matt Cook (“Triple 9”) and Joshua Zetumer (“RoboCop”)

Reliving real-life, recent historical events through the eyes of a single character in a film is the hallmark of the docudrama. Think Tom Hanks’ in “Sully” or, well, Tom Hanks in “Captain Phillips.” These two lead characters are portrayed as rather ordinary people thrust into incredible drama, and as an audience we identify with them, we relate to the events through their eyes. So, what if they didn’t exist, made up to heighten the tension, to put the audience in the shoes of someone who was “there” without really being there? In “Patriots Day,” that’s Mark Wahlberg’s put-upon Boston police officer Tommy Saunders, a super cop who has the ear of the commissioner, the FBI, and the governor while also being on scene for every major development in the Boston Marathon bombing, from being at the finish line when the bombs go off to each step of the manhunt for the Tsarnaev brothers. It’s a strange action movie cliché that somewhat mars an otherwise solid and high-tension retelling of the worst act of domestic terrorism (sadly, since eclipsed) since 9/11.

Everyone knows the story: on April 15, 2013, two homemade pressure cooker bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 260 others. After scouring security footage, two suspects dubbed “white hat” and “black hat” were identified, and the release of the photos sparked the duo, Chechen brothers Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff, all spooky, clueless Millennial disaffectedness), to go on a crime spree on their way to Times Square. In the process they killed an MIT police officer (Jake Picking) while trying to steal his gun and carjacked and kidnapped a Chinese exchange student (Jimmy O. Yang) before engaging in an explosive-fueled shootout with police. Tamerlan is killed in the standoff after being run over by the fleeing Dzhokhar, who became the target of an unprecedented manhunt that shut Boston down and brushed the edge of martial law. He was ultimately located, hiding in a sailboat in a suburban backyard.

If you can look past Wahlberg’s fictional cop who never sleeps, director Peter Berg has put together a fantastic ensemble piece that never loosens the screws, even if along the way it ends up painting law enforcement as maybe a bit too infallible. One scene in particular, featuring Tamerlan’s American wife Katherine (Melissa Benoist) being interrogated—after we’re told explicitly she wasn’t read her Miranda rights—by a mysterious hijab-clad government agent (Khandi Alexander) who questions her commitment to Islam, comes closest to breaking that streak, though. The FBI special agent in charge (Kevin Bacon) and Boston police commissioner (John Goodman) look on in wonder as the extra-legal interrogation takes place, but the feeling we’re left with is this—and the virtual lockdown of Boston—is for the greater good. “Patriots Day” isn’t interested in questioning those ideas, but it could have been a much richer experience had it done so.

Triple 9

February 26, 2016 by  
Filed under Brian, Reviews

Starring: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie
Directed by: John Hillcoat (“The Proposition,” “The Road,”)
Written by: Matt Cook (debut)

There’s a compelling desperation to much of John Hillcoat’s work – a seething, a clawing, a straining-to-survive in a world that seems indifferent and unforgiving at best and actively predatory at worst. “Gritty” suggests itself. “Ruthless” does nicely. His protagonists, set-jawed, tired-eyed men often caught between two irreconcilable inevitabilities or in the tangles of an impossible decision, strive against wounds corporal, emotional, and psychic in a landscape swaddled by corruption, murder, and greed.

Pairing Hillcoat, then, with “Triple 9” – a twisting, ensemble yarn of doublecross and dirty-coppery in which good is often bad and bad is almost invariably worse – would seem a sound and promising (ahem) proposition. Whereas the director’s previous outings have been set in past or projected timelines, alternate or isolated realities that may at best only invite pointed comparisons with our own, the Atlanta-set, aggressively “real” “Triple 9” marks Hillcoat’s first opportunity to spin a tale of human frailty that’s happening right here, right now. As is often the case, the extent to which the narrative lands or not may depend at least partly on the viewer’s expectations sitting down.

In Georgia’s apparently-crime-ridden capital city, here doing its best approximation of “Robocop”-era Detroit, Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Michael Atwood leads a sub-rosa gang of police, ex-police, and ex-military mercenaries obliged to pull off a pair of increasingly tricksy, increasingly high-stakes, occasionally pyrotechnic data thefts to sate the desires of the Kate Winslet(!)-headed Jewish-Russian mob to whom they are in hock. Very soon, it becomes apparent that certain of said gang (a trigger-happy Collins, Jr.) are more comfortable with the particular brand of carnage and casualty required than are others (Mackie, as an active-duty gang-unit officer named Marcus). Ties begin to fray when the first job goes a bit screwy thanks to the sloppiness of junkie-loose-cannon Gabe (Aaron Paul), and, with the police force now alerted and a near-impossible mission to break into Homeland Security (beat THAT, Ocean’s Eleven), the crew decide to buy time for the heist by creating what the film tells us is the ultimate calling-all-units distraction: the titular “triple nine,” or 999 – police code for “officer down.”

Enter Chris Allen (Casey Affleck): idealistic, new to the force, and Marcus’s new partner. He gnaws gum, meets everyone and everything with an unflappable Mona Lisa smirk, wants “to make a difference.” He is, it is summarily decided, the perfect mark. What then unfolds is a somewhat Byzantine cat-and-cat-and-mouse-and-more-cats-and-other-cats-dressed-as-mice game, as the appointed time approaches, various dramatic arcs play out, and the important questions (Will Mackie do it? Since they’ve got Ejiofor’s kid, he’s kind of a good guy, right? Are those fake teeth on Woody Harrelson?) are blurred, come into focus, and get re-blurred again.

With Hillcoat at the wheel and a humiliation of casting riches, “Triple 9” rolls into town behind prohibitively towering expectations. The fact is, it’s a serviceable crime drama, with solid set pieces and some nice acting moments (Mackie and Affleck forge a genuine and endearing chemistry; Harrelson adds some characteristic oddball charm; Michael K. Williams does much with a brief but vibrant cameo), but it seems to fall short of what its pedigree might suggest. Some acting beats miss marks, some plot turns are foreseeable, some dialogue feels like frank exposition. The result, alas, is conventional: something like a pulpier “Heat,” or a less-kinetic “The Departed.” Which, depending what you’re up for, might be fine.