Arguably one of the most devastating acts of terror that has afflicted this country, the 2013 Boston marathon bombing is just one of many incidents that has collectively scarred the nation. That level of infamy understandably leads many to explore the conditions that leads to these kinds of disasters. Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing, an HBO-produced documentary, written and directed by seasoned duo Anne Sundberg and Ricki Stern, tries its best to dig deeper into the tragedy by following its survivors.
From a storytelling perspective, Marathon follows a pretty standard format for a documentary of its type. The split-approach storytelling that you end up with isn’t anything unique.
On one end, you have a group of survivors navigating their way through an emotionally charged journey towards recovery. On the other, you have a massive investigation unfolding focusing on possibly one of the biggest public crimes in recent memory.
The real interest lies in the way Sundberg and Stern tackle the personal element with a strong emphasis on ordinary pairs. Whether its daughter Sydney Corcoran and mother Celeste, blue collar brothers JP and Paul Corden, or young millennial couple Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky, you eventually find yourself connecting with one or another.
There’s little arguing as to whether this was meant to be. It’s the little moments that make it work. Glimpses of vulnerability, both emotional and physical, are what’s really steering the ship.
Marathon finds its groove when it focuses on opposites; the devastation caused by the Tsarnaev brothers bolstered the bonds between pairs coming from all walks of life.
The story centering on the investigation afterward is where the documentary really shines. Stern and Sundberg vibrantly piece together the search for the bombers, not with shotty dramatizations but with actual footage. The clever editing of 911 calls, security/dashcam footage, and police radio talk outdoes any kind of recreation simply because it’s real.
Those moments put together from all angles create brief immersions that sell the drama. Although sometimes they come off as a bit wobbly and read more like a typical television true crime documentary.
At the end of day, Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing is by all means standard fare for documentaries, which isn’t all bad. Sure, it doesn’t bring anything new to the discussions surrounding public safety or radicalization, but at least it keeps the door open for others to give it a try.