Buoyed by strong reviews and an A-list cast, the film "Patriot's Day," which recreates the 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon and the manhunt for the culprits, is expanding to theaters nationwide this weekend.
And although it's expected to connect with audiences at the box office, the project has been dogged by questions about whether it's too soon to turn a tragedy (which ultimately claimed the lives of five innocent people) into a big-screen blockbuster.
"It’s not too soon. It’s not soon enough,” Mark Wahlberg, the film's star and a Boston native, recently told The Boston Globe. “The wounds are far from healed, but I realized if the wrong type of person came in and made this, it could have turned out to be extremely gratuitous. I knew a lot of the responsibility was going to be on my shoulders. But I pride myself on being able to go home and show my face, so I wanted to get it right, you know?”
The filmmakers, including director Peter Berg, reportedly took great pains to get the blessing of the Boston community and survivors of the attack in the making of the film, but it wasn't smooth sailing throughout.
The manager of Watertown, where police engaged in a firefight with bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, rejected the movie's attempt to film scenes on location. And the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, where Dzhokhar was a student, also turned down the movie's request to shoot on site, arguing it would be "too disruptive" for the campus community.
Meanwhile, ever since the film went into production last Spring, there has been an outpouring of skepticism from Boston residents both in interviews and on social media.
"There's a local response that is different from the national response," Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr told NBC News on Friday. "I would say it's probably evenly split. Some people around here are like 'fine, great' and other people don't want to touch it with a 10-foot pole. There's not a lot of middle ground."
Burr is one of the few mainstream critics who isn't fawning over "Patriot's Day," (he called it both "heartfelt and unnecessary" in his review) and while he thinks the film is competently made, it also made editorial choices that didn't sit well with him.
"As someone who grew up in the Boston area, I just felt very aware that they needed to be careful to not exploit [the bombing] and falsify it with narrative cliches," said Burr. "We know the people this happened to. We lived through it on a granular basis."
He took issue with Berg's decision to cast Wahlberg as a composite hero who happens to be at the center of all the action. Burr also believes that other than some shoddy accents, the decision to hype up the action in certain key moments does a disservice to audiences who may interpret the film as factual.
And while Hollywood might want "a cleaner story to maximize profits," Burr thinks audiences might be better off watching a documentary-style approach to this material.
Still, ever since director Paul Greengrass dared to revisit the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 with the critically acclaimed 2006 scripted film "United 93," Hollywood has shown a willingness to recreate very recent history in a burgeoning genre FlavorWire writer Jason Bailey has dubbed "docbusters."
That same year director Oliver Stone paid homage to 9/11 first responders with "World Trade Center," and in the last decade we've seen the run-up to the Iraq War (in Stone's biopic "W"), the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden ("Zero Dark Thirty"), the 2012 siege of the U.S. embassy in Benghazi ("13 Hours"), the 2009 police shooting of Oscar Grant ("Fruitvale Station"), the 2010 rescue of trapped Chilean miners ("The 33"), the 2009 "Miracle on the Hudson" ("Sully") and the 2010 BP oil rig disaster ("Deepwater Horizon," also starring Wahlberg and directed by Berg).
The success with these films with critics and audiences has varied greatly, and almost each project was met with similar skepticism about whether or not they were insensitive. But clearly, the industry has determined the risks are worth the rewards.
"['Patriot's Day'] has proven to be very resilient [in limited release] in cities that have a lot of movie-going options," said Daniel Loria, managing editor of Pro.BoxOffice.com, who predicts the film should run neck-and-neck alongside the inspirational space program drama "Hidden Figures" for first place over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend.
"We are living through a historical time when these moments are very resonant. One way or another these films speak about American identity, how the U.S. sees itself," he added. "It’ll be very interesting to see how this one plays out."