Patriots Day Filmmakers Wanted to ‘Get it Right’ for Survivors, First Responders

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Karen Ballard / CBS Films

Mark Wahlberg plays a Boston Police officer in “Patriots Day.” He was also a producer of the film about the Boston Marathon Bombings.

Getting it right was so important to the team behind the Boston Marathon Bombing movie, “Patriots Day,” that it became their motto.

Producer and star Mark Wahlberg said he initially was hesitant to take on the task of telling the story of the attacks on his hometown, but knew there were other efforts to capture the story of the Marathon Bombings. He wanted to capture the “strength our community showed and how well we came together,” he said at Thursday’s press conference for the movie.

“I’m so damn proud of how my city responded,” he said.

He was concerned how the film would be received in Boston but finally got confirmation after Wednesday’s premiere.

“It was a huge sense of relief,” Wahlberg said. “I think it was the reaction I thought it would be.”

He worked with Boston Police to shape his character, Tommy Saunders, who was a compilation of several officers responding to the attacks and participated in the investigation and manhunt. He said the two Boston Police officers that were the biggest inspiration were Sgt. Danny Keeler and Det. Bobby Merner.

Producers also enlisted some of the Watertown Police officers involved in the shootout – Jeff Pugliese and John MacLellan – with the bombers to get that scene right.

Former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis said the filmmakers “nailed it.”

“They squeezed an amazing amount of detail in two hours,” Davis said.

Survivors

But the attacks were not, and the movie is not, just about the police and first responders. It is about the victims and the survivors of the bombings.

According to the Boston Globe, producers originally approached the family of Martin Richard about making him the focus of the movie, but the family did not want to be included. In the final version, much of the film focuses on the survivors of the attacks.

Richard DesLauriers, the FBI Speical Agent in Charge of the investigation, said the often visited survivors and they provided a source of inspiration.

“They are one of the most heroic demonstrations of strength,” DesLauriers said. “I never left Spaulding Hospital without tears in my eyes.”

Charlie Breitrose

Marathon Bombing survivor Jessica Kensky chats with Dun Meng, the man carjacked by the Bombers, at the press conference for “Patriots Day.” Watertown Police Sgt. Jeff Pugliese (right), who took on the Tsarnaevs in the Watertown Shootout, also attended.

The story of Jessica Kensky and her husband Patrick Downes, both of whom had both legs amputated after the bombing, plays a big part in the story of Patriots Day.

“The question, did they get it right? I think that’s an impossible question for a survivor,” Kenksy said. “I think that’s what I realized (at the premier), that this movie is never going to feel ‘right’ to them because what happened to us was anything by right.”

Kenksy said Wednesday that when she and her husband got the call about participating in a movie documenting the attacks she thought it would be an opportunity to get a nice lunch but she did not think that they would really do it.

Wahlberg was amazed by how Kensky and Downes reacted during the recreation of the bombing at the Boston Marathon finish line.

“When we were filming ‘Lone Survivor,’ I worked with the toughest Navy Seals I have met and he could not be on set for certain scenes,” Wahlberg said. “When Jess and Patrick wanted to come down to the Finish Line set, we said we don’t think that’s a good idea. They said ‘we have been through this in real life.'”

While one might expect reliving the horror of the attacks on screen would be the worst of it, that was not the case for Kensky and other survivors.

“What I heard was it was so hard to see the bombers on screen,” Kensky said.

The Bombers

Asked about putting the Tsarnaev brothers on screen, Berg said they thought long about how to portray them.

“We didn’t want to portray them as righteous men,” Berg said. “They are not real Muslims. They are cowardly and hypocritical.”

Wahlberg said he is not worried about the moving stirring up anti-Muslim sentiment.

“All of the Muslim brothers I know are about love and peace and unity,” Wahlberg said.

Kensky said she was glad the movie told the story of the heroism shown by people after the attacks, particularly Dun Meng, the Chinese immigrant who was carjacked by the Tsarnaevs but escaped and alerted police.

“I’m not sure I would have the bravery he showed,” Kensky said.

Downes said he hopes the legacy of the Marathon Bombings is how Boston responded.

“The goal of terrorism is to pull us apart,” Downes said. “We have shown how to respond in the way we came together.”

Filmmaking Team

Much of the source material for Patriots Day comes from the work of Michael Radutzky and his colleagues at “60 Minutes.” Within hours of the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, they were on the ground researching the story behind the bombings and the aftermath. In the reporting, what struck him was the heroic, selfless acts by police and first responders.

Radutzky, who is one of the film’s producers, said he worked with the right people to turn the story into a Hollywood film, Wahlberg and director Peter Berg.

“Mark and Peter shared the same goals as 60 Minutes, to make sure the story is accurate and present it accurately,” Radutzky said.

Berg had his own up-close view of terrorism. He was in Nice, France, when a man drove a truck into a crowd of people on Bastille Day 2016, killing 86 people. The immediate reaction was similar to the attacks in Boston – everyday people running to assist the first responders to tend to the injured.

“My son asked, ‘Why,'” Berg said. “The why is important, but I don’t think we will every find out exactly why.

“We want to show how evil doesn’t win. That love wins.”

4 thoughts on “Patriots Day Filmmakers Wanted to ‘Get it Right’ for Survivors, First Responders

  1. As a reporter for WBUR I was on Boylston St 20 minutes after the bombing, I continued to report from downtown the next 4 day and was on Mt Auburn & Franklin st @ 1:10 am on 4/19 minutes after the shoot out. I continue to investigate What happened and have many questions but I’ll ask just one here: why did the brothers come to Watertown that night?

    • That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer, but I believe they had some familiarity with Watertown. I remember reading that the older brother had a friend who lived on Boylston St. and that he and other friends used to hang out at his house frequently. They hadn’t been in touch in a while, I think several years, but it at least indicates some familiarity with the town.

      • The day before the bombing the bombings tamerlan bought 2 backpacks at Target in Watertown yet there was a target just a few blocks from his apt in cambridge and only 1 of the backpacks was used in the bombings. I know about his friend on Boylston. He was living there the night of the shootout. Tamerlan seems to have been know by others in town. And he certainly knew his way around the web of streets in that area.

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