Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

01/18/2017

Patriots Day

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — While “Patriots Day” (Lionsgate) is an effective dramatization of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and its violent aftermath, the film is also an unsparing portrayal of those events. Thus it can only be recommended for the sturdiest adult viewers.

Director and co-writer Peter Berg approaches his daunting subject from multiple perspectives, predominantly that of fictional police Sgt. Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg). Stationed at the finish line of the race, held annually on the holiday of the title, Saunders is among the first responders to the chaos unleashed by radicalized Muslim brothers Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) and Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff) Tsarnaev.

Other strands of the story, scripted by Berg in collaboration with Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer, involve lead FBI investigator Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon), and his local counterpart, Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman).

Among the victims profiled are young husband and wife Patrick Downes (Christopher O’Shea) and Jessica Kensky (Rachel Brosnahan) as well as Chinese-born app designer Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang) whom the murderous siblings carjacked and kidnapped. Meng’s courage and quick thinking helped foil the Tsarnaevs’ plans to carry out a further attack in New York’s Times Square.

Berg ratchets up the suspense as authorities scramble to identify and capture the fugitives before they can claim more casualties. And “Patriots Day” is clear about the need to oppose evil with love and decency, an outlook most forcefully expressed through a powerfully delivered monologue from Wahlberg’s Everyman character.

Yet, although the treatment of it never descends to the exploitative or manipulative, the bloody carnage caused by the duo’s series of assaults is not kept off-screen. The grim sights from which Berg refuses to avert his gaze — or ours — are not meant to evoke a visceral or vengeance-hungry response in the audience. They are, rather, an unflinching presentation of reality.

Taken together with the dialogue’s torrent of tension-induced swearing, however, this visual realism makes “Patriots Day” suitable fare for only a few. Still, serious minded grownups will find positive values prevailing amid the many losses.

The film contains disturbing and sometimes gruesome images of terrorist mayhem, considerable gore, drug use, a marital bedroom scene, several uses of profanity and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

Live by Night

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — The glossy crime drama “Live by Night” (Warner Bros.) traces the rise of Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck, who also wrote and directed), a Boston-bred gangster in the Florida of the 1920s and ’30s. Though not exactly a hoodlum with a heart of gold, Coughlin is presented as a sympathetic figure in Affleck’s serious-minded adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s best-selling novel.

Mature viewers, accordingly, will need to bring discernment to bear as plot developments test the limits of Coughlin’s ruthlessness. Given that style trumps substance throughout the mayhem-driven proceedings, however, such an effort is likely to be no more than modestly rewarded.

Disillusioned by his experience of military service during the First World War, Coughlin returns from overseas determined never to have to follow orders again. Seeing lawlessness as a form of freedom, he embarks on a career of low-level thievery that puts him at odds with his father, Thomas (Brendan Gleeson), a high-ranking police officer.

As he gains some notoriety, Coughlin resists the pressure to join forces with — and therefore knuckle under to — either of the Hub’s leading underworld figures, Irish-American kingpin Albert White (Robert Glenister) and Italian mobster Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone).

Things become dangerously complicated, though, when Coughlin falls for White’s alluring moll, Emma Gould (Sienna Miller). The resulting conflict has near-fatal consequences, and leaves Coughlin thirsting for revenge.

Allying himself with Pescatore, Coughlin relocates to the outskirts of Tampa where, with the assistance of longtime friend Dion Bartolo (Chris Messina), he supervises his new boss’ rum-running racket. This brings him into contact with a fresh love interest, Graciela Suarez (Zoe Saldana), the elegant scion of a wealthy but shady Cuban family.

Coughlin’s plans to cap the mounting success of his enterprise by building a lavish casino — prohibition, he realizes, won’t last forever — draws the opposition of an unlikely adversary, local evangelist Loretta Figgis (Elle Fanning).

Morality, social commentary and Christianity of the revival meeting variety are all part of the mix here. But the faith on display is tattered, the ethics muddled and any consistent message gets lost amid the climactic hail of bullets.

Is it acceptable to kill some people, e.g., Ku Klux Klansmen, but not others, like our Aimee Semple McPherson stand-in? Was the WASP establishment to blame when the immigrants they systematically held down turned to criminality?

These are some of the moral rapids Affleck attempts to navigate, only to get distracted by an overstuffed story and the urge to move on to the next shootout. The result is a scenic but not very satisfying voyage.

The film contains frequent violence with some gore, semi-graphic premarital sex, upper female nudity, a couple of uses of profanity and constant rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

Sleepless
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — There’s little chance of catching a quick nap during “Sleepless” (Open Road), a noisy, vulgar, and highly violent police drama.

Based on the 2011 French film “Nuit Blanche” (“Sleepless Night”), this tense thriller, directed by Baran bo Odar, involves a complex game of cat-and-mouse between law enforcement and drug dealers on the mean streets of Las Vegas.

“This city is crawling with dirty cops,” declares Jennifer Bryant (Michelle Monaghan), an internal affairs investigator for Sin City’s police department. Badly beaten while trying to break up a narcotics ring, she suspects her fellow officers were behind the attack.

The dirtiest cops may be Vincent Downs (Jamie Foxx) and his partner, Sean Cass (rapper T.I.). Both are dealing cocaine on the side, supplying Stanley Rubino (Dermot Mulroney), a smarmy casino owner, as well as the local drug lord, Rob Novak (Scoot McNairy).

When a delivery goes awry, Novak’s henchmen are killed, and Cass runs off with the cocaine, Rubino plots his revenge. He kidnaps Downs’ son, Thomas (Octavius J. Johnson), and holds him hostage until Downs can deliver the goods.

Despite being stabbed in the chest, Downs races against the clock (and fends off sleep) to retrieve the drugs and rescue his son, all the while pursued by Bryant and her partner, Doug Dennison (David Harbour).

Added to the mix is Downs’ ex-wife (and Thomas’ mom) Dena (Gabrielle Union), an emergency room nurse who just happens to be handy with a pistol.

Andrea Berloff’s script, awash in blood (and silliness), tries to keep viewers guessing until the very end as loyalties shift and true identities are revealed. The last-minute message that crime doesn’t pay barely retrieves this gritty vigil from being ruled out for all.

The film contains relentless graphic violence, including gunplay and torture, and pervasive crude and profane language. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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