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Exploiting Our Collective Nightmare: The Case Against Mark Wahlberg's Marathon Bombing Movie

Mark Wahlberg, pictured here in Los Angeles in November 2014, will produce "Patriots' Day," a film chronicling the events surrounding the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, based on the firsthand account of then-Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis. (Richard Shotwell/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Mark Wahlberg, pictured here in Los Angeles in November 2014, will produce "Patriots' Day," a film chronicling the events surrounding the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, based on the firsthand account of then-Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis. (Richard Shotwell/AP)

So much for those Dorchester roots. Mark Wahlberg is a creature of Hollywood now. How else to explain the action movie hero’s decision to fast track a film about the Boston Marathon bombings before this wrenching trial is even over?

It has been only four days since prosecutors rested their case against admitted bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev with the words “he was 8 years old,” a reference to Martin Richard, another Dorchester native who was one of three spectators killed, alongside scores who were maimed, at the Boylston Street finish line two years ago. His younger sister, Jane, lost her left leg. His mother, Denise, lost the sight in her right eye. His father, Bill, underwent two surgeries to repair his burst eardrums.

The jurors’ eyes are still red, their stomachs still churning, from autopsy images of the shattered bodies of Martin and Lingzi Lu, 23, and Krystle Campbell, 29, shredded by the shrapnel propelled by the explosion of the Tsarnaev brothers’ two pressure cooker bombs, and MIT police Officer Sean Collier, dead from gunshot wounds to the head.

How does [he] not see that it is far too soon, that the city is still far too sad for its trauma to be transformed into mass entertainment?

And the first thought of Dorchester’s most famous former racist thug? How soon can we exploit the pain and recreate the carnage for profit on the big screen?

How does someone who markets himself as “a Boston guy” not see that it is far too soon, that the city is still far too sad for its trauma to be transformed into mass entertainment?

The former resident of the Deer Island House of Correction turned Hollywood actor and producer is not exactly a model of sensitivity. Would we expect compassionate treatment of a difficult subject from the guy who, while yelling racial epithets, threw rocks at African-American children who ventured into his Savin Hill neighborhood during a school field trip when he was a teenager?

Or the former drug-addict convicted of assault for beating two Vietnamese men on a Dorchester street while shouting ethnic slurs, violating a civil injunction barring him from again trampling on the civil rights of his non-white neighbors?

Or the queasy homophobe who told an interviewer a few years back that he was relieved filmmaker Ang Lee didn’t cast him in “Brokeback Mountain,” because he was “a little creeped out” by the gay sex.

Or the tone-deaf macho man who told Men’s Journal three years ago that had he been on one of the hijacked airliners on 9/11 "it wouldn't have went down like it did. There would have been a lot of blood in that first-class cabin and then me saying, 'Okay, we're going to land somewhere safely, don't worry.'"

The former Calvin Klein underwear model insisted last winter in his petition for a gubernatorial pardon for his youthful hate crimes that he is a changed man, known more now for charitable work than for alcohol- and drug-fueled assaults on people of color. He wants the pardon for altruistic reasons, he said, so he could work more closely with law enforcement to steer at-risk kids away from bad behavior. It’s true that expunging his criminal record would also remove a nettlesome obstacle to getting concessionaire’s licenses to expand Wahlburgers, a restaurant chain he owns with his brothers, but that is purely a secondary concern.

Wahlberg has apparently convinced former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis that he is the right man at the right time to produce with CBS Films a cinematic recreation of this city’s collective nightmare, although Davis concedes he has never actually met the rapper previously known as Marky Mark.

“There had been several offers like this — for movies and books. I turned them down,” Davis, who resigned five months after the bombings, told The Boston Globe. CBS Films, which purchased the rights to Davis’ story for an undisclosed sum, “basically said to me they were going to make the movie anyway. Because I’m a public person, I didn’t have the right to stop them. I could either work with them or not. I talked to them at length and I thought it would be better to have some input — to make sure that the depiction was done properly.”

So much for those Dorchester roots. Mark Wahlberg is a creature of Hollywood now.

Properly done? Only a serious documentary could be done properly two years after the bombings when there are still so many unanswered questions. Will Wahlberg’s movie tell us who nearly killed Richard H. Donohue Jr., the MBTA Transit Police officer who was among the first on the chaotic scene in Watertown during the standoff with the Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? Was it friendly fire, as several witnesses reported? Will we learn what really happened in the Florida apartment of the 27-year-old Chechen immigrant who was shot and killed while being questioned by law enforcement officers about Tamerlan Tsarnaev and an unsolved triple homicide in Waltham?

Look for the tentatively titled “Patriots’ Day” to go light on serious questions in favor of a cinematic celebration of the genuine heroics of the cops, the paramedics and the bystanders at the finish line and the trauma teams at Boston’s medical centers as it recounts events through the eyes of the police commissioner, maybe played by Wahlberg. “It will also include footage from the vast '60 Minutes' archives to add an element of realism to the picture,” according to BDCwire.com. (Watch Ed Davis' "60 Minutes" segment below.)

Realism? Isn’t that what’s unfolding in Courtroom 9 of the John Joseph Moakley federal courthouse in the case of United States v. Dzhokar A. Tsaenaev? Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday.

Related:

Eileen McNamara Cognoscenti contributor
A Pulitzer Prize-winning former columnist for The Boston Globe, Eileen McNamara is the author of "Eunice, The Kennedy Who Changed the World."

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