Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg‘s Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing (HBO, 11.21) screened at the just-concluded Savannah Film Festival, so it’s fair game. I was interested because I was looking to experience a doc that wouldn’t do the “Boston fuck yeah!” thing, which is what everyone expects from Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg‘s Patriot’s Day (CBS Films, 12.21). I wanted to sink into a film that would tell the real, ground-level story of the April 2013 Boylston Street bombing — the prelude, the motivational particulars, the aftermath and whatnot. The whole detailed blow-by-blow.
I was therefore surprised to discover that it’s essentially a documentary about the victims’ medical and emotional recovery from the bomb blasts, and only secondarily a detailed investigation into the whole story — who, what, when, where, why, how, etc. Shot over a three year period, the doc focuses “on a newlywed couple, a mother and daughter and two brothers — all gravely injured by the blast — face the challenges of physical and emotional recovery as they and their families strive to reclaim their lives,” blah blah. Coping with terror, shock, pain, missing limbs, prosthetics, health costs, feeling morose.
So instead of a “Boston fuck yeah!” film, Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing is a “recovery fuck yeah!” thing. A movie that wears a banner across its chest that says “life can be brutal but the spirit of love and family lives on!”
What about how Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the fiends who personally brought the horror? What about their histories, motivations, etc.? What about Dzhokhar’s friends who protected him, lied for him? How exactly did Dzhokhar come to be motivated to help his older brother, Tamerlan, in the bombing? Is Dzhokhar going to be executed or not? What are the odds that this kind of thing could happen again with Muslim immigrants who’ve returned to the Middle East and been radicalized? Was anyone in their family concerned about their beliefs or behavior?
The doc covers some of what happened with the culprits — how the cops determined their guilt, the Watertown shoot-out, the capture inside the boat — but only in shorthand. What it really cares about is recovery from bomb wounds. It’s basically about nurturing rather than inspection and discovery. Stern and Sundberg’s doc is good as far as it goes, but the focus is way too domestic. Somebody said to them “you have to make a doc about hope and moving forward, and not terror and looking backward…you don’t want to make a film about the threat of pernicious domestic terror. Nobody’ll watch it.”