Sunday, 26 February 2017

Film Review: Patriot's Day And Best

Patriot's Day And Best

It’s Berg’s third true story in a row after 2014’s Lone Survivor and last year’s Deepwater Horizon and like those films it stars Mark Wahlberg – his manly muse, you might say.

In Lone Survivor he played a US Navy Seal who survives extraordinary odds during a botched mission in Afghanistan. The tense picture was a tribute to the courage and brotherhood of a doomed group of soldiers that avoided triumphalism and was brilliantly made.

Deepwater Horizon was less satisfying narratively – it didn’t have a proper ending – but left you in no doubt of the heroism of oil rig workers like Wahlberg’s technician, Mike Williams, in contrast to the greed and recklessness of oil company BP.

The man was the last to leave the burning inferno after safely seeing off numerous colleagues. Job done.

Patriot’s Day presents a trickier challenge for the filmmakers. It tackles a subject, terrorism, that requires careful handling to avoid charges of exploitation and the story lacks a movie-ready hero.

The hunt for the brothers who planted the bombs, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, played by Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff, was conducted by a huge number of people. Arguably, the hero is the city itself.

To get around these problems, Berg shows almost no interest in the perpetrators other than as bomb carrying threats who have to be snuffed out – we learn next to nothing of their background and motivation – while Wahlberg, himself a Boston native, plays a character who is a “composite”, in other words made up.

Patriot's Day And Best

He is police sergeant Tommy Saunders who finds himself at the scene of the two blasts – the bombs went off at the finish line . He plays a central role in the subsequent frantic investigation, interviewing witnesses, helping sift CCTV footage and conveniently being present for some shoot outs with the brothers as the net closes in on them.

The character is not the most artfully developed. He is coming off a suspension at work, the cause of which is never explained. But Wahlberg is second to none at playing rugged, blue collar heroes who rise to the occasion. Likeable is in his DNA.

The real focus of Berg’s interest is the procedural that occurred after the bombs went off (the explosions are graphically depicted) and it’s here that the film fascinates, depicting in detail the complex manhunt involving city and national authorities.

A vast waterfront warehouse is commandeered and transformed in a matter of hours into a hi-tech command centre in which film from scores of retrieved mobile phones is scoured alongside CCTV footage while mountains of blood-splattered clothes are analysed for DNA evidence.

John Goodman is the impatient commissioner of the Boston Police Department, Ed Davis, and Kevin Bacon the tight-lipped FBI Special Agent, Richard DesLauriers, who is more cautious in reaching conclusions and reluctant to release CCTV images of the potential suspects until having his hand forced by Fox News.

There are no short cuts. The hunt relies on the marshalling of extraordinary manpower, the bravery of ordinary citizens and simple mistakes made by the brothers who might easily have got away with their aim of slipping into New York to set off more bombs in Times Square – they had an extraordinary arsenal of home made bombs.

For those, like me, unfamiliar with the events it is eye-opening and occasionally riveting, in particular a sequence in which the brothers carjack a petrified but brave young Chinese man, Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang). There are also some explosive gun battles.

Yet exciting action and intriguing detective work only get you so far, especially in a story which potentially has so much contemporary resonance and relevance. Ultimately, there is a vacuum where the real investigation should be – into the characters and the human heart.

Towards the end, Saunders makes a belated speech about the power of love but it feels like an afterthought, an attempt to bolt on a message when really the film is only interested in the mechanics of the manhunt. Most egregiously, we come away with no understanding of the perpetrators.

The eldest brother, Tamerlan, has an attractive wife and young daughter and is very much the ringleader. The younger, Dzhokhar, is his obedient dope-smoking accomplice and a college student. Where did their hate come from? What turned them against their adoptive country?

The picture shows ordinary people doing acts of great heroism (the bravery of the maimed and wounded is most inspiring) but if it had asked the question “what makes a villain?” it could have been a Patriot’s Day to really remember.

The rapid rise and fast burnout of George Best are faithfully recounted in new documentary Best from director Daniel Gordon (Hillsborough).

Former wives, lovers and footballing colleagues all say variations on a theme – that he was a great talent and lovely guy with tragic demons – as we follow the precipitous slide into alcoholism of the Belfast-born Manchester United star described variously as a “pop star footballer” and the first footballer “fashion icon”.

The film is well put together and Best’s talent shines in the archive footage, although you do wonder if he achieved quite as much to deserve all the adulation; as he himself admits he peaked aged 22 after being named European Footballer of The Year.

After that, it was all about the drinking and bad behaviour, from missed training sessions and signings to increasingly minor soccer teams in the United States.

Ultimately it all becomes rather wearying and dispiriting, much as you imagine it felt for those around him, without sufficient character intrigue to sustain interest.

The man himself seems devoid of fight.

He found success too easily and lost it all too easily. Where’s the struggle?



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