Directed by David Gordon Green.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Clancy Brown, Carlos Sanz, and Lenny Clarke.
Stronger is the inspiring real life story of Jeff Bauman, an ordinary man who captured the hearts of his city and the world to become a symbol of hope following the infamous 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
Stronger is the real-life story of 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing amputee survivor Jeff Bauman who went on to walk again while becoming a symbol of resiliency in the process, but director David Gordon Green (Our Brand is Crisis, Pineapple Express) wisely doesn’t go the route of depicting the man turned inspirational celebrity overnight at a saint. It’s actually quite the contrary, as the film is unflinching in its earnest portrayal to highlight the negative characteristics of the person. After all, still prospering or not after a terrorist attack, Jeff was human, and all humans have their own flaws. By focusing on these elements just as much as the powerful effect the iconic photograph of Jeff after the tragic incident had on the civilians of Boston (including the fact that he brought crucial information to the FBI in regards to the appearance of one of the bombers), Stronger functions as one of the most human filmmaking experiences out there.
Embodying the hard-drinking Bostonian is Jake Gyllenhaal, delivering another showstopping transcendent performance, with legs or without them. I don’t often mention personal details about my own life when writing these reviews, but I do have a disability preventing me from walking (it limits my mobility in general), so it’s a performance that not only do I pay extra attention to, but relate to far more on an emotional level than the average viewer might. At multiple points in Stronger, Jeff will attempt to be independent of his body when in reality it is something he assuredly requires assistance with, and that desire to push himself to the limit is awe-inspiring to behold. Gyllenhaal’s strained facial expressions, the clear infuriating pain he is bringing to the character, is all superbly executed (the decision to focus solely on his face as the bandages are removed off of his severed legs in the hospital while blurring everything else in the shot is blurred out of focus yields devastatingly genuine body language), but there’s something else that is really going to take audiences by surprise.
For a man who recently just lost both of his legs, Jeff Bauman was a jokester, constantly blurting out amusing quips around his family. Not only is this almost certainly true to the real-life personality of the man, but I can assure you from my own life that comedy is definitely a joy for the disabled. Humor allows optimism and positivity to slightly raise the spirit, bringing about the same effect on those closest to a person. Little details like that continue to elevate the human nature of this inspirational story, and also allow Jake Gyllenhaal to show a comedic side to his acting that is rarely seen.
As previously mentioned, Jeff is not perfect and continues to make some of the absolute wrong decisions in regards to the relationship with his ex-girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany), that can easily be chalked up to an unfortunate level of immaturity coming from a 28-year-old man. Drinking while driving, shutting people out, unable to step up to the plate in life-altering situations outside of the bombing attack all rear their ugly heads. However, as Jeff gradually becomes a beacon of hope, finding the courage to accept what he now is and tackle more media appearances, it all almost acts as the final transition into full adult maturity. There are actually times in this movie where, legs or no legs, Jeff comes across as an inconsiderate ass, especially with how he treats the ex-girlfriend that drops everything in her life to be there for him. During a heated argument about a very important topic, he even begins to guilt trip her for suffering the accident; it’s raw and riveting.
Admittedly, some of the family and girlfriend drama does take away from what it feels like Stronger should have really double downed narrative focus on, which is the journey to walk again. All of the extensive training and building up of tolerance to make use of mechanical robot legs seems to be an afterthought, although still packs a touching wallop. On another note, the effects to actually remove Jake Gyllenhaal’s legs are fantastic, as even when Jeff is in motion crawling or seeing lying nude in the bathtub, it still appears lifelike.
Stronger is definitely the feel-good inspirational tale many will be expecting, but don’t go in ready to watch two hours of a script full of praise. The road to recovery is filled with both the good and bad sides of Jeff Bauman, and thankfully so, as that’s what makes a biopic truly captivating. Considering that the film is adapted from Bauman’s own book detailing his life during and after losing his limbs, it seems even he understands that people don’t want bullshit, they want real people and the truth.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com