CBS Films, which already has one bona fide Oscar contender in this year’s mix with its August release Hell Or High Water, just may have a second with Patriots Day, which provided a rousing close to the AFI Fest last night in Hollywood. The film, which marks the second collaboration this fall alone between director Peter Berg and star-producer Mark Wahlberg (their Deepwater Horizon opened in late September), will get a qualifying run at the end of December before going wide January 13 — a similar plan that their Lone Survivor followed in 2013. That one went on to be a hit, but got only a couple of Oscar nominations in the sound categories.
Patriots Day, which tells the story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings from several different angles, could do much better especially as it seems particularly well-timed. With police under scrutiny in many major cities these days, this film presents them in a shining light that could go far to help repair a damaged image. That is the power of movies, and this is one that, like Sully, gives us heroes in a time that desperately needs them.
Also, like Sully, Berg’s film tells a heavily publicized recent story in a way that seems completely fresh and new. CBS Films chief Terry Press seemed very happy with the response last night at the film’s world premiere, where I saw it for the second time in a week. It was even more powerful seeing it again.
“I think as it turns out the timing just could not be better for this movie. I think it is really going to resonate,” Press told me at the Hollywood Roosevelt after-party. Producer Scott Stuber, also thrilled by the response, shared similar sentiments. Co-star Michelle Monaghan, who plays Wahlberg’s wife, was still processing it all after seeing the movie for the first time when I ran into her exiting the TCL Chinese theatre.
A couple of weeks ago, before I had seen the film, Press told me she had a hunch this late entry could be a “disruptor” in the awards race. It may well be as I think the tense, superbly made movie is probably Berg’s best, and most accomplished, film to date — or at least since Friday Night Lights. The merging of documentary footage of actual events with the re-creations is seamless, and gives it all a lot of added gravitas. It could also score well in technical categories.
Berg is justifiably proud of what is on screen. “I love this story so much. We are so jaded and cynical in our business, but you go there and meet these people, these are the stories I want to tell,” Berg told me afterwards. It was an emotional night for Berg as he had just come from the theater where several of the real-life people depicted in the film got a big standing ovation as he brought them onstage and each said a few words. They included Boston Police Department Commissioner Ed Davis (played by John Goodman in the film); FBI Special Agent In Charge Richard DesLauriers (played by Kevin Bacon, who was also at the premiere); Watertown Police Sgt. Jeffrey Puglisese (played by J.K. Simmons); one of the civilian victims of the bombings, Patrick Downes; and Dun Meng, the young Chinese man who escaped his captors and alerted police to the whereabouts of the bombers.
Meng, played brilliantly by Jimmy O. Yang in the film, has the most memorable line in the movie when he said to the police, “Go get those mother f*ckers.” It drew big applause during the screening. I asked Meng afterwards if he really said it, and he affirmed everything was completely accurate.
In addressing the audience when the lights came up, Berg said, “There are a lot of reasons I think that Mark and I wanted to make the film, and one of them is to be unapologetic in our support of law enforcement. We are so grateful for what law enforcement can do when we really need them. And I think one of the things we saw in response to Boston was the very best of law enforcement, and a reminder of why we are so lucky to have these men and women serving for us, ready to come to our rescue and defense.”
Wahlberg, also on stage, seemed overwhelmed by sharing the moment with these men. It was a bit similar in feeling to some of the Spotlight screenings last season where the real journalistic heroes of that story, also set in Boston, were brought up to take a bow. That movie, of course, went on to win Best Picture.
“Being a Boston native, knowing what a small community it is, and that everybody knows somebody who was directly affected, I am just honored to be able to tell these extraordinary people’s story,” Wahlberg said. “Thank you. You guys inspire me to be a better person.”