STARRING: JAKE GYLLENHAAL; TATIANA MASLANY; MIRANDA RICHARDSON
DIRECTED BY: DAVID GORDON GREEN
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
There's a reason why people say the phrase, “at least you have your health.” Over the years, after I had multiple knee and one shoulder surgery, I realized that it's a blessing to be able to wake up in the morning and have full mobility. If you haven't had a rude awakening, a movie like Stronger might send a message that you take to heart. Director David Gordon Green brings the story of Jeff Bauman to the big screen. Bauman lost both his legs below the knee in the Boston Marathon bombing, but this isn't the typical narrative of a man overcoming tragedy and finding his will to walk again. There's an awful lot of pain and suffering to crack through, before Bauman learns what it takes to keep going, not to mention, two stellar performances at the center from Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany. Stronger is more than just an inspirational film, it's an experience where you leave thankful for what you've got.
Like many films that take place in Boston (it's practically it's own genre now), we meet the community of people surrounding Jeff (Gyllenhaal), including his often crass, cigarette dangling, straight talking mother (Miranda Richardson), his tough as nails father Jeff (Clancy Brown), and his numerous aunts and uncles, often hanging around watching the Red Sox games at their favorite pub. Erin Hurley (Maslany), is the on and off girlfriend, whose running in the marathon brought Jeff to his fateful point, but instead of focusing much on the tragedy itself, screenwriter John Pollono, focuses in on the relationship between the two lovers, as the explosion not only altered Jeff's life that day, it rearranged the lives of everyone around him.
I cannot continue without taking a moment to praise both Gyllenhaal and Maslany. The Brokeback Mountain and Nightcrawler star is continuously at the top of his acting game. His performance in Stronger is nuanced, but also perfectly portrayed through his physical work. His Boston accent stays consistent, he finds new ways to use facial features to evoke lingering pain behind his eyes, and fighting the depression that came with the loss of his legs. Maslany, on the other hand, is the show stealer. The Orphan Black star delivers a performance worthy of a best supporting actress nomination. Her struggle comes from being emotionally paralyzed to help Jeff, while she is the only person willing to do the hard things it takes to help him back to strength. She is painfully aware of the confusion Jeff feels when he's given the hero label that everyone bestows upon him. The two of them are just happy Jeff's alive.
David Gordon Green (Joe; Pineapple Express) expertly directs each heartbreaking scene of Jeff's painful anguish. Simple things, that we take for granted, such as when Jeff uses the bathroom, dresses himself, or feels unworthy of the support from others drives right to the center of our heart. Unlike last years Patriots Day, Stronger is the exact opposite of everything that the Mark Wahlberg film was saying. Green doesn’t want to focus on the ra ra heroic machismo, instead he zones in on the humanity that is involved in a tragedy of this nature. From Bauman's trauma, the girlfriend, the family, the Boston community, and the man who saved Jeff's life- Carlos Arredondo (Carlos Sanz); All of them have been changed from the fateful day.
Like the films title, Stronger is a powerful testament of humanity. The weak spots are the few scenes that are too cheesy and out of place to match with the performances by Gyllenhaal and Maslany, but they can't tear down Green's good intentions. The tragic events that effected Jeff Bauman will inspire others to see the gifts they are given on a daily basis and what doesn't break us in life will only make us Boston Stronger.
Written by: Leo Brady