'Patriots Day' Is A Difficult Reminder Of Boston Marathon Bombing

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Mark Wahlberg in the film, 'Patriot's Day.' (Courtesy CBS Films and Lionsgate)
Mark Wahlberg in the film, 'Patriot's Day.' (Courtesy CBS Films and Lionsgate)

"Patriots Day," starring Dorchester native Mark Wahlberg, is a fictionalized, Hollywood account of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. It premiered Wednesday night at Boston’s Wang Theatre and drew some of the stars of the movie, as well survivors of the bombing and many of the local law enforcement officials who were about to see themselves depicted on screen.

Like the rest of us, I remember the bombing, and covered the trial of the convicted bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Standing behind the barricade, I kept thinking back to the three-month-long death penalty trial — the faces of the families in the courtroom and so many of the survivors struggling to walk to the stand on prosthetic limbs. That was over a year and a half ago, but the testimony and the images are fresh in my mind.

So when Wahlberg made his way down the red carpet rope line to me, I asked him why he wanted to make this movie now.

"Everybody knows what they saw on the news," he said, "but what they don't know is the story of the people, and that's what we wanted to tell."

Wahlberg plays Boston Police Department Sergeant Tommy Saunders, a fictional composite character of real law enforcement officers involved in the scene of the bombing, the investigation and the manhunt.

Before the film began, the Boston Police Department's Pipe and Drum band marched down the aisles, setting the the patriotic tone for the film.

An early scene depicts the fateful April day in 2013. It's a seemingly normal Marathon Monday — until the bombs go off.

The movie intersperses its dramatic recreations with actual news clips, real video taken by people on the scene and security camera shots, all from that day.

The film is bloody. At times, it was hard for me to keep my eyes on the screen. Shrapnel and body parts litter Boylston Street, curdling screams and alarms sound. People apply belt tourniquets to the injured. And police cover with a sheet the still body of an the 8-year old boy that we all know is Martin Richard.

It was very much like what I saw during Tsarnaev's trial — footage so bloody and so horrific that some of it couldn't be released publicly. It's the sounds and video that brought some of the jurors to tears.

At the movie premiere, I kept thinking, this is still so raw for many of us. Even in the writing of this story today I cried — yet again — at my computer.

On Wednesday night, Boston police Commissioner William Evans said yes, it's painful to see some of these scenes again. "It brings back a lot of emotions, whether people accept that or not," he said.

But he believes the makers of "Patriots Day" did it in a respectful way.

"I think they were very sensitive and I hope people look at it as a positive thing for the city to show how we came together and we made a good thing out of something so negative," said Evans.

The film follows the same timeline as reality, compressed into two hours, moving from the bombing and the investigation to the assassination of MIT cop Sean Collier and the massive Watertown shootout.

The scenes from Watertown play out like something from the video game "Grand Theft Auto," with cars flying through the air as the Tsarnaev brothers throw pipe bombs and pressure-cookers at the police.

There's a lot of Hollywood embellishment in these scenes — no cars flew or flipped in Watertown that night in 2013.

Dun "Danny" Meng lived through that terrifying night. Just before the manhunt in 2013, the Tsarnaev brothers held him up at gunpoint and carjacked him. And at the film premiere, Meng wasn't sure he was ready to relive that again. He said, "I don't think I'm... I'm not sure. I just, I'm not sure..." He continued, "Kind of getting back to that day, feels like. Kind of like going though everything again, it was very emotional."

"I didn't know if I was ready to see it, but after I left I felt better," said former Boston police Commissioner Ed Davis. Davis was asked to consult during the film's production and he says it was the way the producers, director and Wahlberg approached the material that brought him around.

Wahlberg said he felt it was important for him — a Bostonian — to be the one to make this film.

"I took on the responsibility of making sure we got it right," he said. "If anybody's going to be held accountable in this community, it's me. I come here to visit my mum, I want to visit the Boys Club, I want to go the neighborhood. And I want to be able to hold my head up and walk the street with pride."

It's been three and half years since the bombings and it's been a tough few years in terms of terror attacks. Boston, in some ways, was the beginning of these lone wolf-style attacks, and there have been so many others since.

That's why Watertown Police Sergeant Jeff Pugliese — who tackled Tamerlan Tsarnaev to the ground during the shootout — says now’s the time for a movie like "Patriots Day."

"The world needs to see this," he told me. "To see what these people are doing, you know what happened in San Bernardino, Belgium, France, Germany, these people out there trying to demoralize good people. The world needs to see that between the police and the public, we can stop this."

Of course for the survivors of those terrible days in April 2013, the suffering's never really stopped. Three people lost their lives on Boylston Street that day and more than 200 people were injured. Of the survivors, two of them were at the movie premiere: Jessica and Patrick Downes.

They're portrayed in the film by actors, but they're also in it themselves, because "Patriots Day" closes with interviews with actual survivors.

"Two people took many days and weeks to plan out hate, but love responded in an instant," Downes said. "The bombs went off and reeked incredible death and destruction, but in that immediate instant afterward, people ran toward us."

There's great pride and hope for the city in the film, ending with a celebration of Boston Strong, the survivors and first responders, and the resilience of our city.

But "Patriots Day" is still a Hollywood depiction of an actual, real world event. It's not a documentary. It's not a news report. Someone is going to make a profit off of real people's pain.

For so many of us in the Boston area, the pain of those days carries on.

There's a scene, after the bombing but before the manhunt, where Wahlberg’s character, Saunders, describes to his wife what he saw at the finish line.

He says, "I don't even understand what I saw. I keep seeing this blood everywhere. And then there was a 8-year-old boy, he was just laying there. They had to take his family away and his parents ... I have these images in my head and they ain't going away."

We all have these painful, real images in our heads. This movie brings them back yet again.

This segment aired on December 15, 2016.


Jamie Bologna Senior Producer/Director, Radio Boston
Jamie Bologna was senior producer and director of Radio Boston.



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