Movie Review: Stronger

The 2013 Boston Marathon bombing was a devastating blow to the city and its close-knit community when an insidious terrorist attack left three people dead and hundreds injured, sixteen of whom lost a limb. While the two home-made bombs that detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon disrupted the race and caused widespread panic as a manhunt ensued, it eventually led to the Boston Strong movement as people banded together in unity. The incident and its aftermath has been widely reported, documented and has inspired two films to date.

Patriots Day, starring Mark Wahlberg, was a docudrama style thriller detailing the events from a police officer’s perspective. Stronger is a much more introspective biographical drama, an inspiring coming-of-age character study about the journey of Jeff Bauman, an ordinary man who became a symbol of hope during this time.

Bauman was thrust into the public eye as a hero after surviving the bomb blast. Unable to save his legs from the knee down, he was relegated to a wheelchair. While Patriots Day offers a great context for Stronger, this intimate drama explores how the act of terror affected one man in dealing with difficulties surrounding an unexpected disability, the pain and pleasure of accidental celebrity and mounting pressures facing his immediate circle of family and friends. Instead of retracing the much-publicised tragedy, we get snippets (some graphic), shifting the focus onto our main protagonist, his on-and-off girlfriend and immediate family.

Director David Gordon Green has a knack for comedy, which probably explains why he came to be attached to this project. Stronger is similar to 50/50 in terms of the treatment and the central co-lead dynamic, blending a brash Bostonian sense of humour with heartfelt drama. It has similarities with the artful romance drama Rust and Bone, another film about a woman’s struggle with newfound disability following a traumatic event, yet is more grounded and straight-laced like the coming-of-age sports drama, Soul Surfer.

 “I’m here to try out my sea legs(!)​”

Jake Gyllenhaal is such a dependable and fine lead actor that you can almost guarantee a quality film experience when he gets top billing. While he could have been a one-hit wonder playing iconic teenager Donnie Darko, he’s gone on to become a respected and consistently excellent actor in Hollywood. Immersing himself in the role of Jeff Bauman with shaggy hair and brown contact lenses, makes it even easier for audiences to embrace the character through an earnest, naïve and restless performance. He’s supported by Tatiana Maslany as Erin, a flickering flame who feels some responsibility for Jeff’s altered state and resolves to help. She is a sweet, young guardian angel and Maslany taps into the emotional complexities of the role in a similar capacity to Emilia Clarke in Me Before You.

While the cast is chock-full of Boston spirit, convincing performances and strong accents, it’s Miranda Richardson who stands out in a noteworthy performance as Jeff’s mother, Patty. She is reminiscent of Millicent Martin and almost unrecognisable, adopting an unflinching attitude, Bostonian accent and coaxing a special performance to give us insights into Jeff’s world and background. Genuinely concerned yet obfuscated by her own vices, she plays a comical and bumbling mother with surprising depth and a genuine sense of emotional turmoil.

Through the use of amazing visual effects, Gyllenhaal’s performance is augmented and the reality of his disability is unquestionable. Adding to the realism, is David Gordon Green’s ability to create an authentic atmosphere for his actors. Through group scenes and recreations, we get a taste of Boston life and community spirit. Stronger is a heartfelt, inspiring and surprisingly funny coming-of-age drama that celebrates life, the resilience of the human spirit and Boston’s people. It makes for a bittersweet, entertaining and taut dramatic exploration and serves as a fitting tribute for the sentiment behind Boston Strong.

The bottom line: Poignant

 

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