Under the Radar

Director Peter Berg's Tribute to Boston Heroes in 'Patriots Day'


Patriots Day (now playing in Boston, NYC & LA/opening everywhere on January 13th) is director Peter Berg's third consecutive film based on real events and starring Mark Wahlberg. The two previously worked together on Lone Survivor, the 2013 movie about Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, and Deepwater Horizontheir recent film about the 2010 BP Oil Spill.

Patriots Day intertwines the stories of real men and women whose lives were changed by the Boston Marathon bombing: Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, a young married couple who were injured in the blast; Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, who led the investigation; Dun Meng, the Chinese student who survived a kidnapping by the bombers; MIT police officer Sean Collier, who was murdered by the bombers on their post-marathon crime spree; Watertown Police Sgt. Jeff Pugliese, who was involved in the capture of the terrorists; and even the lives of bomber brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Wahlberg and Michele Monaghan play Tommy and Carol Saunders, a fictional Boston police officer and nurse married couple whose lives intersect with the bombing, its victims and the investigation.

While there's a lot of action in the movie, it's the tiny details of each character's life that resonate. Maybe Hollywood feels like they did "Boston" last year with Spotlight, but it's a shock that Patriots Day isn't a major player so far this awards season. Peter Berg talked with us in December about the movie.


Actors Mark Wahlberg and James Colby discuss a scene with director Peter Berg.

I've never seen anyone capture the spirit of Boston in a movie this way before. I know Mark obviously has a history there, but did you have any connection to the city before you made this film?

I mean a bit. I'm a New Yorker. It really started with Mark Wahlberg, who took me up to Boston, about three months prior to us really digging in on the script. I spent so much time with police officers, from the victims, the families of the victims, survivors, and got a pretty comprehensive understanding of the city, mainly because Mark was able to make these introductions.

I'd have to say the Dunkin' Donuts scene is the most Boston thing I've ever seen onscreen.

They love their Dunkin' Donuts. That’s for sure.


One of the most striking things about the film is the difference between the Tsarnaev brothers’ personalities. You’ve got an older brother who hasn’t really become an American, but it seems like Dzhokhar is an American kid who becomes radicalized.

Yeah, that was one of the things that was so shocking about those brothers. These brothers were not like the crew that flew on 9/11, terrorists who snuck into the country. One was a kid that went to UMass Dartmouth who had three girlfriends at the same time. They all loved him so much that they put up with each other. He was dealing weed. He was a good wrestler. The older brother wanted to represent the US in the Olympic boxing team. He was married to this blonde, blue-eyed little princess from Rhode Island, whose dad was a doctor. The whole thing was just crazy.

The older brother lost his Olympic bid, had some kind of psychotic, narcissistic disorder, got radicalized in Chechnya, came back and wanted to make bombs. It was hard not to want to almost do an entire film about this crew.


Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg talk about the movie on "CBS This Morning."

And yet, you made a film that captures a sort of patriotism that seems to be bred into the people in Massachusetts in a way that I haven't quite ever seen anywhere else.

Well, I was in New York 9/11 and I think that New York demonstrated a similar kind of community brotherhood. And I was in Nice on Bastille Day this year when that truck goes through the crowd that killed 90 people. I saw young people from my hotel running out into the streets to help the police officers get the wounded out of there. I do think that these events have a way of bringing out the very best in us.

As Deval Patrick said, the governor, the unintended result of these acts of terrorism is that a climate of real love gets fostered and people put aside all the petty bullshit and help each other. I don’t think that’s something unique to Boston, but definitely something that we saw in the real response from Boston.

You’ve made some films about the military that have resonated with our audience. It seems like the line between what is foreign and what's domestic in the United States has become blurred since 9/11. Is that something you’ve thought about a lot when making these films?

I think it's undeniable that we're as likely to encounter terrorists in Fallujah and Kabul or in Starbucks. That’s just the unfortunate reality of the world that we live in today and it's requiring a new sense of vigilance that’s unprecedented.

My nephew goes to University of Ohio and last week they had an active shooter. He got a text from the school saying “run, hide, fight.” That’s what the school is sending out to its students. Try and get away, if you can't get away, hide. If they find you, don’t sit there, fight, attack. The fact that this is the new reality is depressing, shocking, a bit terrifying, but I think somewhat inspiring because we're seeing how people will in fact fight for each other and look out for each other.


Former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg at a press conference.

In a way, it's almost like there's two different films here. There's the film about the attack, but there's also the manhunt afterwards and you managed to make that work. It's almost like it could be split into two different movies. How did you approach making that transition in one film?

If you break down the 150 hours after the bomb, right when the bombs went off, up until when Dzhokhar was pulled out of the boat and it was over, there were so many really intense moments.

There was this young, Chinese-American getting carjacked, there was a very violent gunfight in Watertown, there was the bombing. There was all kinds of stuff that’s appealing to filmmaker because it's dynamic and intense and all that stuff, but I didn’t want that to overpower the movie. I didn’t want the movie to be an action thriller. I wanted it to be something more.

I wanted people to, at the end of the day, to take away the message that love beats hatred. The big challenge was making sure we didn’t get so caught up in these different action elements that we lost the emotion and we lost the sense of the community coming together and that we were more than just an action film. And that was something that we spent a lot of time talking about and working on it in the edit room.

I had a chance to talk with Jessica and Patrick earlier today In some ways, their story is the most affecting one that you tell in the film.

Imagine, you're a young couple, in your early 20's, your marriage is just starting. You're getting ready to move to San Francisco really to start your lives. You're having a couple of drinks celebrating this marathon and the next thing you know your legs are off and you're blown up.

What they’ve gone through in the resiliency and the ability to stay together and keep loving each other and the connections they’ve made at Walter Reed. Patrick said, “You know, I'm a liberal Jew from Boston, and I'm at Walter Reed getting ready to get beat up by a bunch of Marines.” And now they’ve developed these friendships there. Their story is so amazing and inspiring. That’s why we wanted to make this movie.

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