Director: David Gordon Green
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Richard Lane Jr., Nate Richman, Lenny Clarke, and Clancy Brown
Jeff Bauman may not be a name that you recognize but his story is one that you’ll remember. The Chelmsford, Massachusetts’s native was waiting at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15th, 2013 when two homemade bombs detonated, which resulted in the loss of both of Mr. Bauman’s legs. While the images from that day will be forever remembered, Mr. Bauman’s story doesn’t end there.
Director David Gordon Green constructs a personal story of healing, detailing both the physical aspects needing to be re-learned but also the mental aspects that arise long after the initial trauma. It’s a welcome return for the director who has a done a little bit of everything since his first exceptional feature “George Washington”. “Stronger” feels in the same form as the director's intimate films “All The Real Girls” and “Undertow”. The way the director handles tragedy and the traumatic ways it influences the lives of families and relationships has always been with a touch of compassion and an emphasis on honesty. Incorporating those same qualities into a film about a real event with a real person offers an interesting perspective on a still poignant day in America.
Leading the film is Jake Gyllenhaal playing Jeff Bauman. The film is based off the autobiography by Bauman and portrays the young man as a screw-up who drinks beers at the local bar and argues with his family with a mix of expletive one-liners. Still, while it’s mostly difficult to admire such character, there is also an undeniable charm that comes through. Mr. Gyllenhaal naturally has that likable quality and has shown already that he can make even the most annoying, self-centered character engaging; look no further than his exceptionally deranged performance in “Nightcrawler”. Gyllenhaal shines throughout the film, most notably when he is sharing the screen with Tatiana Maslany who plays Jake’s embattled girlfriend Erin. Ms. Maslany is fantastic as she moves through an arc of regret, support, and annoyance while caring for Jeff.
One of the interesting aspects about this film is the way it portrays the characters and the qualities typically associated with films concerned with redemption. Where another film might take a straightforward approach with the characters close to the trauma, Mr. Green instead goes for something closer to a caricature of the characters. Jeff’s mother, portrayed impressively by Miranda Richardson, is a heavy drinker who makes nearly every situation about her and what she thinks is right for her son. It’s overwhelming in moments but also nicely utilized especially when Jeff reaches his breaking point with those around him. The film also takes an interesting look at heroes and the definition of heroics. Jeff is constantly reminded of the worst day in his life by people who instead correlate it with aspects of strength and heroics. Mr. Green makes this an fascinating concentration in the second act as Jeff is bombarded with requests to make appearances at different events.
The film spends most its time focusing on the interesting aspects of the family dynamic and the crumbling relationship that Jeff is experiencing. So when the film needs make a change and display the redemptive aspects of Jeff’s healing, things come together forced and bit messy. Still, the performances here are impressive and the narrative takes an interesting approach in showcasing how people deal with tough times. And in the finale, regardless of how it decides to conclude, “Stronger” still has the quality of being an inspiring journey.
3.50 out of 5.00