Wondering why movies based on real events take so many liberties with the facts

In today’s New York Times, there is an article by their new England Bureau chief, Katharine Q. Seelye, that starts by looking at why most reviewers outside New England “have generally given the movie positive notices.” On the other hand, most writers in New England “have been far more critical.”

She introduces the next part of the article with a very interesting statement:

what I’ve found is that moviegoers outside New England pretty much accept the film on its own terms, as entertainment, and Bostonians do not.

She then proceeds with a fascinating list of embellishments and other deviations from what actually happened. I will let you read the article for yourself but among her more salient points, in my opinion, were:

  • the composite police officer played by Mark Wahlberg, who “is both made up and, implausibly, present at every key development.”
  • A police officer who was killed by the bombers is shown in a made up scene flirting with “a pretty female student, although a romantic relationship did not actually exist.”
  • An eight-year-old boy, Martin Richard, was killed in the bombing. Boston police officers (plural) stood watch while forensic units did their work, whereas in the movie it’s a single state trooper standing guard. The writer poses a salient question on this point, which the director, Peter Berg, totally fails to respond to. “Was showing a trooper just an innocent mistake? Mr. Berg [I love that New York Times still does honorifics!] said that the film was dedicated ‘to all law enforcement’ and that ‘we tried to spread the wealth around to each of the different departments without being overly concerned about which department did what.’”
  • I remember what I was watching the coverage at the time that I was amazed at how my different police officers had gone to Watertown when word went out that the bombers were there. I had not realized that it was more than 2500 law-enforcement officers  who responded, let alone that hundreds of them “self deployed.”  To represent them we have a made up character.  “Mr. Berg said that the female cop from Framingham, who stakes out a rooftop position, was not real but was meant to represent the gung-ho spirit that brought all that firepower to the scene.”

I still intend to watch the movie, but I will keep these points in mind as I watch it.  (And I won’t even vent about the missing apostrophe in the movie title, which WordPress automatically added when I tried to tag this piece.)