Mark Wahlberg as a Boston cop in an armoured vest might instill a sense of security, but not when the subject of the film is the fateful 2013 Boston Marathon, where a pair of homemade bombs were detonated at the finishing line in an act of terrorism.

Patriots Day details the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, as the FBI and Boston PD swiftly mobilise to collate video footage and witness statements in an attempt to identify those responsible; a collaboration that’s not without conflict. However, it’s not all investigative minutiae. Having recently dramatised another real-life American tragedy in Deepwater Horizon, director Peter Berg recognises the need tell a propulsive story, condensing and consolidating this massive operation into a taut and tense two hours. The focus quickly shifts to the manhunt for Chechen-American brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze), which forces the city into lockdown.

Although we already know the outcome, Berg delivers a gripping procedural that’s acutely sensitive to the subject matter. He’s also a dynamic action director, and the shootout between the police and the Tsarnaevs in neighbouring Watertown is a highlight, as is the carjacking of Chinese app designer Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang) by the brothers.

Wahlberg’s fictional homicide cop, Tommy Saunders, who proves instrumental in tracking down the bombers, is almost a supporting character in a large ensemble that includes Kevin Bacon’s FBI agent, John Goodman’s police commissioner, and J.K. Simmons’ Watertown sergeant. But ultimately it’s the residents of Boston who are the real heroes here, with their assistance during the investigation and resilience in the face of terror deservedly acknowledged.

Patriots Day is a respectful and engrossing dramatisation – and a sobering reminder – of the events of April 15, 2013, although perhaps not the film America needs right now given the political climate.

In cinemas: February 2, 2017
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman
Directed by: Peter Berg