Here’s something Oscar voters and regular folks probably don’t think they’ll want or need this year: a movie all but guaranteed to make them cry.
Yet it’s coming, anyway: “Patriots Day,” a film about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, directed by Peter Berg and starring Mark Wahlberg, a Beantown son, as a police officer. The film nabbed the closing-night slot at the American Film Institute festival in November, landed on the National Board of Review’s Top 10 list, and opens on Dec. 21, prime time for awards.
For a picture that some feel is arriving too soon, or that risks being exploitative or worse, “Patriots Day” stands, on the one hand, to be unintentionally well timed. At a recent screening in Manhattan, as audience members gasped their way through tears, it became clear that the film got at something more elemental than tragedy: It captured the purity of the altruistic outpouring that came in the bombings’ wake. Sniffling away, the Bagger couldn’t help wondering, might this be a film that makes both blue hearts and red hearts crack open, and proves a unifier of sorts?
Then again, we are living in times when the very definition of “patriot” is deeply contested and fraught, when the word alone often causes liberal neck hair to stand on end.
“Patriots Day” is Mr. Berg and Mr. Wahlberg’s third film together, after this year’s “Deepwater Horizon,” about the deadly 2010 oil explosion and spill, and the 2013 “Lone Survivor,” about a disastrous war mission. All three neatly fit the definition of what Rolling Stone describes as the “neo-patriotic blockbuster”: movies whose heroes wear blue collars rather than cowboy hats or capes.
“These are films that seek to whitewash America,” Corey Atad wrote in Esquire, “boosting the virtue of pure patriotism, fashioning an uncomplicated reality for an audience tired of feeling like their country is being lost to liberal pussyfooting and terrorist threats.” Also in that category is Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-nominated box-office hit “American Sniper,” which became such a partisan flash point two years ago — lefties deemed it pro-war propaganda; righties saw it as a patriotic masterpiece — that some liberals who consider themselves open and tolerant refused to see it outright.
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