The esprit de corps engendered by the Boston Marathon (and similar events, including Sydney’s City to Surf) was put to the test in April, 2013, when bombs made by home-grown terrorists exploded near the finish line, killing three bystanders and maiming many others.
Peter Berg’s movie opens with a sequence of scenes that introduce you to the innocents who will be directly affected by the attack, as well as Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg), the cop who is destined to be at the coalface of the subsequent investigation and pursuit of the two brothers responsible for the atrocity. Berg is not one for understatement, so the glowing ordinariness of victims and police is reiterated time and again – there are more confirmations of ‘I love you, honey’ than you might reasonably expect to hear in the hokiest rom-com. But that is not to diminish the horror of the event, which, following the buildup, is filmed with stark, shocking realism.
Owing to its news coverage, we knew the explosions were coming; what we were not aware of were the immediate and intensely focused procedures that were enacted to hunt down the perpetrators. The Massachusetts governor, the mayor of the city, as well as numerous levels of law enforcement hierarchy and a phalanx of computer geeks studying security camera footage of the area, around the clock, in a giant warehouse, were involved under the authority of the painstaking FBI agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon).
For the sake of the through-line, Saunders, who has temporarily been demoted from detective to uniform after a misdemeanour and is hobbling around with a bung knee, happens to be present at every crucial moment. It is riveting, as Berg spends increasingly more time with the killers while the entire city of Boston is shut down and the web closes in on them. An interview with the wife of one of the bombers is a stark reminder of religion’s heinous grasp over those gullible and resentful enough to buy into its poppycock in a fantastic movie that is only slightly marred by a postscript of unnecessary triumphalism.