The Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013 was one of the most shocking moments in modern American times; three people were killed and 264 were injured. But the ensuing four days, in which law enforcement from the federal, state and local levels came together to kill lead bomber Tamerlin Tsarnaev and capture his brother Dzokhar, formed the centerpiece of the truly remarkable part of the story: the aftermath.
That’s because the bombing hit Boston, but the people of Boston hit back, facing incredible evil with a show of love that brought together every imaginable type of citizen, across racial, class, age and gender lines. This show of community came to be known as “Boston Strong” and inspired the planet — as well as filmmaker Peter Berg and his frequent collaborator, the devoutly Catholic Oscar-nominated superstar Mark Wahlberg.
Together, Berg and Wahlberg have teamed up to create “Patriots Day,” a movie about the circumstances surrounding the bombing and the ensuing events. Berg co-wrote and directed the film, while Wahlberg plays a key role as a cop who is a fictional composite of two real Boston police officers. The movie has already drawn broad critical acclaim, and was named one of the 10 best films of 2016 by the prestigious National Board of Review. It opens nationwide on Jan. 13.
Wahlberg and Berg, who previously made “Lone Survivor” and “Deepwater Horizon” together, recently discussed the making of “Patriots Day” and the powerful message they are hoping to send about love and goodness triumphing over hatred and evil.
Angelus: Why was this the right time for the film?
Berg: Unfortunately, this is part of the reality we live in and have to accept now. The ability of first responders — law enforcement, firefighters and hospital workers — is something we wanted to applaud, but we also wanted to explore a narrative that made sense about how members of the community can accept this tragedy, grieve and move on.
Mark took me to Boston and showed me people who lost loved ones and limbs, and we saw the love and support in that community. As simplistic as that sounds, we were touched by the power of love, that love beats this kind of evil and that, fundamentally, we are all pretty decent people. This movie is all about the love.
Angelus: There’s a speech Mark’s character has in the movie about love that brings it all together. As a producer as well, and a native son of Boston, did you need encouragement to make this?
Wahlberg: I was a little concerned. This happened in 2013, fairly recently, and there were basically three movies competing to get made about the bombing. Whether I was in front of this thing or not, they were gonna make this movie regardless. I wasn’t going to let someone handle my city without the sensitivity it deserves. My city made me so proud of how they responded, and that was all the validation I needed. This is my home, too, and these kinds of things are happening everywhere.
To talk about whether it’s too soon, we felt it wasn’t soon enough. These things are happening all over the world, acts of violence are happening to innocent people. So we needed to make this as soon as possible.
Angelus: You were missing a hook to really get you into making the film. When did you get that inspiration that really made it a must for you to make the movie and helped you shape it?
Berg: Mark sent me to Boston to meet people. I was very touched by the police commissioner and the FBI head there. But one meeting was supposed to be a quick lunch and wound up being a four-hour conversation: when I met Dun Meng, the Chinese immigrant who was carjacked by the bombers, but managed to escape and lead the authorities to them.
He told this story about the hour-and-a-half he was in the car with the Tsarnaev brothers. It was so inspiring to meet such a hero who could have the mental fortitude and poise to stay alive and manipulate the brothers. He said he could smell the death in the car, knew they were going to kill him and to unhook his belt and run took so much courage, and to remember his car’s [GPS] tracking number was so amazing. When I met him, I knew I had to do this movie.
Angelus: You guys were taking on a subject that’s so important. How did the bond you have elevate you to knock it out of the park?
Wahlberg: The performance had to be secondary, because we had to just make sure we honored the community as a whole. That was the responsibility. It was put on my shoulders to get it right as a whole and honor everybody with the respect and dignity they showed that day.
Angelus: The performance of the actor playing the younger bomber was great. He wasn’t a one-dimensional bad guy, which he could have been, and yet you guys didn’t seek sympathy for them either.
Berg: One of the things that was so unique about this act of terrorism is that for Sept. 11, [lead terrorist] Mohammad Atta snuck into the country. But the Tsarnaev brothers were people you see at Starbucks every day. Tamerlin wanted to be in the Olympics on the boxing team, felt he didn’t make it because of his religion and that started radicalization for him. His younger brother was a ladies’ man, a weed dealer and an average college student.
Angelus: How was it attending the premiere in Boston?
Wahlberg: As you can expect, it was extremely emotional, but ultimately very triumphant. I knew Pete cares about honoring our community. It was emotional, but it reiterated to everybody that we’re gonna come back, come back stronger and stand together. It was extremely positive. You talk with survivors and their families about re-enacting the worst day of their lives, but with this tragedy came an overwhelming amount of love and strength, and that was a triumph I’ve never seen. They redefined the term hero.