Review: Stronger

8 10

STRONGER was originally reviewed as part of our TIFF 2017 coverage.

PLOT: The true story of Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal), as he struggles to rebuild his life after losing both legs.

REVIEW: As the second high-profile, Boston Marathon bombing film, David Gordon Green’s STRONGER won’t be able to avoid comparisons to Peter Berg’s PATRIOTS DAY, although they couldn’t be more different. While Berg’s movie followed the immediate aftermath of the bombing, and was more about the city than any one person, STRONGER is clearly one man’s story, and how his battle to regain his sense of self represents the very private fallout from events like this that we don’t usually see.

Jeff Bauman was the man pictured in the graphic shot that circulated in the news after the bombing, showing the gruesome remnants of his legs, with them eventually amputated above-the-knee. A working stiff from Boston, with a day job at Costco and a wide circle of friends, we know him mostly from feel-good news pieces showing him waving the flag at hockey and baseball games, but STRONGER peels away that superficial layer to reveal the harsh truth behind his recovery.

Avoiding any typical Hollywood biopic tropes, which would have no doubt turned Bauman into a noble victim, here he’s allowed to emerge as a three-dimensional guy. Gyllenhaal, in a commanding performance, portrays him through the various stages of his recovery, with his initial brave face (with Lieutenant Dan jokes, and even some vital testimony identifying the bombers), giving way to the harsh truth of his injuries, such as the fact that he has to learn all over again how to do simple things like use the toilet, and hardest of all, how to walk on his new artificial legs.

We see how his well-meaning family, with Miranda Richardson as his hard-drinking, but loving, mom, and Clancy Brown as his father, smother him with attention at times - when he’d rather just be on his own (Lenny Clarke has a funny part as his foul-mouthed uncle). Most significantly, the film charts how his ex-girifriend, played by “Orphan Black’s” Tatiana Maslany, comes back into his life, although their love story, like everything else, is complex, as their scenario is far from an easy one.

What I especially liked about Green’s movie is how Bauman’s discomfort of being in the public eye is portrayed, with people constantly demanding selfies from him even while he’s in the midst of crippling angst, all of them taking something out of him for the purpose of a quick photo they can tell their friends about. Eventually, the film comes around and shows how not all the attention is bad, with it acknowledged that his story did indeed give hope to many people, but it’s believable in the way they show that was a fact it took Bauman awhile to embrace. In that way, they make him very real, which is what gives the film such an impact, especially in the climatic scenes which depict a meeting he had with the man who rescued him from the blast. It's another way that STRONGER deviates from the norm. This gives the film some real weight and staying power, and it comes highly recommended.

Source: JoBlo.com



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