Stronger

For inSing

STRONGER 

Director : David Gordon Green
Cast : Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Richard Lane Jr., Clancy Brown, Frankie Shaw, Patty O’Neil, Carlos Sanz
Genre : Drama/Biography
Run Time : 1h 59m
Opens : 21 September 2017
Rating : M18

From the ashes of every tragedy rise stories of courage and eventual triumph. This biopic endeavours to tell one such true story. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jeff Bauman, a Bostonian who works at the deli counter at Costco. Jeff’s on-again, off-again girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany) is running the 2013 Boston Marathon to raise funds for the hospital where she works as an administrator. Jeff turns up to wait for Erin at the finish line, when two explosions go off and all hell breaks loose. Jeff is badly maimed in the explosion, and both his legs are amputated above the knee. With the support of his mother Patty (Miranda Richardson), his father Jeff Sr. (Clancy Brown), Erin, his boss Kevin (Danny McCarthy) and other friends and family, Jeff embarks on the arduous road to recovery. Becoming a national symbol for the city’s resilience in the wake of the terrorist attack, Jeff must also cope with the attention and scrutiny brought about by his unexpected status as a public figure.

Stronger is based on Bauman’s memoirs of the same name, which he co-wrote with Bret Witter. As an inspirational awards-season film based on a true story, the more cynical among us might approach Stronger with somewhat justified wariness. Director David Gordon Green, working from a screenplay by John Pollono, attempts to steer the film away from outright emotional manipulation. For the most part, Green does a serviceable job of depicting the struggles faced by Bauman in the aftermath of the bombing, while keeping the film from being overly solemn or dreary. However, much of the conflict in the film feels slightly contrived and overblown, with the feeling that this has been Hollywood-ised, if only a little.

While Bauman’s story is inspiring, even those who have not read the book or are unfamiliar with the events will already have a rough idea of the trajectory of the story. Stronger offers a detailed depiction of Bauman’s road to recovery, but doesn’t feel particularly insightful. Green does effectively convey how disorienting and overwhelming this sudden celebrity is for Bauman, and depicts the toll that Bauman’s injuries take on those who care for him. There’s a lot of shallow focus in cinematographer Sean Bobbitt’s shots, and while the film is sometimes beautiful to look at, there’s a thin sheen of artificiality over it. The visual effects used to make it look like Gyllenhaal’s legs have been amputated is seamless.

Being a performer who often plays characters who have undergone great mental or physical torment, Gyllenhaal delivers a strong performance. As portrayed by Gyllenhaal, Bauman is a bit of a man-child, but is endearing in his own way. He convincingly essays the pain that Bauman experiences, and there are times when the film does get raw. The film’s best scene is the meeting between Bauman and his rescuer, Carlos Arredondo (Carlos Sanz). There are no histrionics, it’s a simple conversation, but it’s the most moving moment in the film.

We’re used to seeing the female lead in films of this type relegated to the role of ‘designated girlfriend’, but Erin is portrayed as more than that. Her relationship with Bauman hasn’t gone especially smoothly even before the accident, and we see how the effects that Bauman’s recovery process and newfound recognition have on them. It puts a strain on their relationship, but in weathering the journey together, it also brings the couple closer together. The Orphan Black star puts in a restrained, un-showy performance, balancing out the more over-the-top performance of Richardson as Bauman’s fretful mother.

Stronger might contain many tropes one would associate with awards bait dramas, but it doesn’t sugar-coat things. Thanks to a compelling central performance from Gyllenhaal, glimmers of authenticity shine through. However, more jaded viewers might not be especially moved by the story it tells, especially when the melodrama is ratcheted up.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Churchill

For F*** Magazine

CHURCHILL 

Director : Jonathan Teplitzky
Cast : Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, James Purefoy, Julian Wadham, Danny Webb, Richard Durden, Ella Purnell
Genre : Drama/Biography
Run Time : 1h 45min
Opens : 6 July 2017
Rating : PG

Sir Winston Churchill just might be the most iconic Briton in recent history. The wartime Prime Minister has become a nigh-mythic figure, and it’s easy to see why filmmakers are drawn to telling his story. This historical drama focuses on the leadup to D-Day as the Second World War rages on. Churchill (Cox) prepares for the beach landing of allied forces in France, meeting with American general Dwight D. Eisenhower (Slattery), Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery (Wadham) and other high-ranking personnel in the allied command. Churchill fears a repeat of the horrifically botched beach landing he oversaw during the First World War, and he takes his anxieties and frustrations out on his wife Clementine (Richardson), who becomes increasingly concerned about Churchill’s ability to deal with the pressure of leading the country through the war. Depending on a multitude of factors, D-Day could turn the tide for the allies or lead to tragic consequences. Churchill must call on his fortitude and decisiveness, when the troops and civillians need it the most.

Churchill is directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, who told a markedly different World War II story with The Railway Man. Teplitzky works from a screenplay by British historian Alex von Tunzelmann. Going into Churchill, one knows what to expect: a reverential, respectable historical drama, but one that might be a chore to sit through. While there is an attempt to humanise the titular historical figure, Churchill ends up as a stodgy and inaccessible work. The official synopsis for the film describes it as a “ticking-clock thriller”, but despite the incredibly high stakes in play, Churchill lacks urgency or momentum. As a result, the audience feels like they’re watching events unfold from a distance, rather than engaging with them.

Many great actors have played the steadfast British Bulldog, and Cox proves himself to be up to the task, having already accumulated a respectable body of work. Because a particular image of Churchill is so ingrained in the public consciousness, actors have to work extra hard to push past the caricature of an unyielding, principled curmudgeon. While Cox does what he can with the material, his portrayal of Churchill isn’t as indelible as John Lithgow’s recent turn in the Netflix series The Crown. Granted, Lithgow played Churchill at a slightly later stage in his life, but he evinced the inner conflicts roiling beneath the brickwork exterior better than Cox does.

In addition to being a historical drama, Churchill wants to be an unconventional romance. Richardson’s Clementine is often the only one in the room who can stand up to Churchill or even try to talk him down – after all, as his wife, Clementine has had years of experience. Richardson achieves a lot with just a glance, and we wish she were in more of the film. Unfortunately, the dramatic moments between the couple seem contrived and predictable, and while Churchill’s outbursts are violent and dramatic, there isn’t enough emotional heft behind them.

The supporting cast is fine, with Slattery a standout as a dashing, serious and commanding Eisenhower. Purefoy is an appropriately sweet, if slightly bland, King George VI. Ella Purnell plays the requisite audience identification character, the fictional secretary Helen Garrett. Churchill harshly berates her when she makes a spacing error in typing up a document, but one knows it’s going to build up to Churchill eventually treating the young woman with kindness, as she wells up with admiration for the great man. It’s a forgivable cliché, but a cliché all the same.

The best historical dramas transcend the niggling feeling that one is fidgeting in the back of the classroom during history period. Alas, Churchill does not overcome this. While there are snatches of clever repartee between the characters, and a smattering of powerful imagery, Churchill feels circuitous and unnecessary instead of illuminating or compelling.

Summary: A bog-standard historical biopic, Churchill features Cox giving it his best shot to play the iconic Briton, but it fails to drum up much urgency or strike an emotional chord.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong