When it comes to adapting real-life tragedies for the screen, deciding how soon is too soon can be a minefield. Releasing a film shortly after a catastrophe goes one of two ways: Artistic depiction can be a poignant step toward healing the national soul, but one false move positions the entire film as an object of ire for a hurting public. If the director doesn’t take the proper care, the movie doesn’t just come out crappy, it feels evil.
How to choose, then, whether a film retelling the appalling events of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing comes too soon? Here’s a little secret: It has nothing to do with proximity to the event itself. If the film that Safe House director Daniel Espinosa may direct for 20th Century Fox comes to pass, whether or not it’s “too soon” depends entirely on whether the film has been assembled tastefully.
This rationale accounts for what I’ve coined “the United 93/Remember Me paradox.” Paul Greengrass’ gripping minute-by-minute chronicle of the hijacked flight entered theaters in 2006 to a wash of critical acclaim and public approval. It was, by all accounts, not too soon. Remember Me, an unforgivably sappy Robert Pattinson vehicle, shoehorned 9/11 into its final, craven moments to emotionally manipulate its audience. Though it premiered in 2010, it was most certainly too soon. The secret isn’t even especially revelatory. It will always be too soon for entertainment that deploys national heartbreak as a device to score sentimentality points.
Espinosa would do well to tread carefully, should he take on the script currently titled Boston Strong, as Variety reports he might. Casey Affleck’s hasty departure as the project’s producer and star does not engender optimism, but screenwriters Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson did right by Massachusetts’ regional specificities with their script for The Fighter in 2010. It could be the cathartic dramatization that finally alleviates a little tension over in Beantown, but the pitfalls are many.
As a born-and-raised Massachusetts native, I say with complete certitude that if he fouls this one up, the denizens of Boston will devour him alive without a second thought. They’re magnificently resilient, as shown in the days, weeks, and months following the bombings, but they are not a forgiving people.