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