A Missed Opportunity – A Runners Review of Patriots Day

A few months ago, after seeing the first trailer for Patriots Day, I wrote a short post asking if it was too soon to be making a movie about the bombing that took place at the Boston Marathon in April 2013. My own feelings were torn after watching the first trailer for the film. I felt that if the film was made by the right people with the intent of honoring the victims, first responders, and the runners who took part in the race, the film could be a cathartic experience. However, as a movie buff, I also know Hollywood’s track record for churning out films that are designed to manipulate the feelings of the American public about a tragic event to turn a quick profit. Of course, I couldn’t completely decide how I felt about the film until after I had seen the finished product, but the casting of Boston native Mark Wahlberg and the marketing campaign for the movie left me hopeful.

As part of the marketing push for the film, Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg took the time to produce a three minute video explaining why they were making the film. In the video, Berg says…

“We came to Boston to tell the story which honors those who were affected, and we were humbled and very thankful for the way they opened up to us and became partners in ensuring the story was told in a very authentic way.” 

You can view this promotional video below…

After reading the reviews generated by the film’s Oscar qualifying limited release at the end of 2016, I finally had the opportunity to see Patriots Day this Friday on the first day of its wide release to general audiences. I entered the movie with an open mind but still somewhat skeptical of the filmmakers intent. The Facebook post I made a couple of minutes before the lights went down reflects this skepticism.

So, did Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg succeed in fulfilling their goal of telling the story of the Boston Marathon bombing in a way that honors those that were affected by it? The answer is yes and no. How can it be both? Either they succeeded in honoring the victims and those that were affected by the bombing or they didn’t; right? Allow me to elaborate.

I can say that Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg succeeded in making a film that feels 100% sincere in its intent to honor the city of Boston and its citizens. The selflessness and courage of Boston’s first responders, citizens, and politicians comes across beautifully. I loved how the characters that were written for the film captured the spirit of the city of Boston and its citizens. From the police officer telling a marathon spectator to be careful wearing their New York Yankees hat in the bleachers set-up along the marathon course because he will likely get his ass kicked. To the strong female police officer who tells two FBI sharp shooters “f*&^ off. This is my spot and I’m not moving” when they tell her they are taking over the capture of the bomber. To the regular citizens of city lining the streets cheering on the Boston Police after they caught the surviving bomber. Indeed, when it comes to the city of Boston and its citizens, Patriots Day succeeds in telling the story in a way that honors those that were affected.

So, if the movie properly honors the city of Boston and its people, how did it fail to tell the story in a way that honors those that were affected by the bombing? The filmmakers failed to honor and recognize the heroic efforts and sacrifices made by the 27,000+ runners that were participating in the 2013 Boston Marathon and the many thousands of people who came from all over world to support a runner. Runner’s from all 50 states and 45 countries participated in the 2013 Boston Marathon, and, like the city of Boston’s first responders and citizens, when the terrorists bombs went off, they immediately took action to help the victims in any way they possibly could. Just like the good people of the city of Boston, when the bombs went off near the finish line, the runners and spectators from all over the world responded immediately to help anyone who was in need. I believe that it is this oversight that kept Patriots Day from becoming a great movie.

There are hundreds of stories from the runners in the field and their family members who were at the race to support them that could have helped round out the movie. I have chosen of few of the most popular ones to share below.

The man in white cowboy hat in the photo above is Carlos Arredondo. Carlos was at the to hand out mini American flags to spectators on behalf of his work to support United States war veterans and suicide prevention groups (Carlos’ son was killed in Iraq in 2004 and his other son committed suicide in 2011 as a result of the physiological issues he had dealing with his brothers death). The man pictured in the wheel chair is Jeff Bauman. Carlos saved Bauman’s life by tying off his crippled legs with a sweater, placing him in a wheel chair, and pushing him to the back of an ambulance. Jeff Bauman is alive today because Carlos ignored getting himself to safety to help someone in need. Last July, Jeff and Carlos ran a mile race together. Jeff ran on two prostectic legs and, due to a recent surgery, it was Jeff who pushed Carlos across he finish line in a wheel chair. Their story had come full circle.

Bill Iffrig (the runner in the orange singlet pictured below), a 78 year old from Lake Stevens Washington was knocked over by the blast when he was 20 yards from the finish line. Bill said he knew immediately that the bombing was terrorist attack. After checking his body for any injuries and finding that he was OK, he rose to his feet with one overarching thought in his mind. I’m going to finish this thing. Bill finished the race in 4 hours and 3 minutes (including the time he was on the ground after the bombing). Bill returned to the Boston Marathon in 2015 at the age of 80. His message to the bombers still resonating loud and clear. He will not live in fear of what he experienced 20 yards from the finish line in 2013 and, above all else, he will never quit a race he has started. Never was Bill’s resolve to finish every race he has ever started more clear than when he rose to his wobbly legs that April day in 2013 determined that he would not quit.

Perhaps the most inspiring story of all that is tied to the Boston Marathon attack didn’t take place near the finish line in 2013. A Hollywood screen writer couldn’t have created a more amazing return to the Boston Marathon a year after the attack than the scene that played out at the 2014 race. Meb Keflezighi, an immigrant from Eritrea, spurred on by the memory of the bombings and wearing a race bib that had the names of the four victims who had died in the attack written on the back, ran the fastest marathon of his career at the age of 38 and became the first American citizen to win the Boston Marathon in 31 years.

After being bombarded for over a year and a half by a presidential campaign that has left our country more divided than it has been in a generation, I wanted to leave this movie, not only with an increased respect for Boston’s first responders and citizens, but with a renewed faith that when things get really bad, when terrorists show us the incredible evil that humanity is capable of, the American people and citizens of the world are able to put their differences aside and instantly unite to remind the people behind the attacks that nothing is more powerful than the human spirit when a group of people are united with a common goal.

I realize that it would have been very difficult to craft a movie that captured all of these elements within a two hour movie. However, if Hollywood would have waited more than 3.5 years to make this movie, a well rounded film that honored the citizens and city of Boston as well as inspired its viewers with its stories about the power of what the human spirit is capable of in some of the most horrific situations imaginable could have been made. It is because Hollywood’s impatience that the film Patriots Day will always, in my opinion, be a missed opportunity to truly inspire all of us at a time when we needed it most.

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