Stronger (2017)

  • Time: 116 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama
  • Director: David Gordon Green
  • Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Clancy Brown, Miranda Richardson


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.


  • (RATING: ☆☆☆☆½ out of 5 )

    GRADE: B+


    IN BRIEF: A gritty and emotionally-charged film that couldn’t ask for a stronger performance than the one given by Jake Gyllenhaal.

    SYNOPSIS: A biography of Jeff Bauman, a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing.

    RUNNING TIME: 1 hr., 56 mins.

    JIM’S REVIEW: The odds against Jeff Bauman surviving the horror of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing were slim and the chances any moviegoer won’t be moved to tears and uplifted by this one man’s personal tale of survival while experiencing David Gordon Green’s Stronger are even less.

    This heartfelt film takes on the before and after view of this common man. First seen as a hometown boy (before being cast as an hometown hero to the world), Jeff (Jake Gyllenhaal) was a fun-loving avid Boston Red Sox fan caught in an on-again / off again relationship with his girlfriend, Erin (Tatianna Maslany). He lived an ordinary life, one filled with bars, beer, and blue collar stock characters. Then came the terrorist bombing which changed everything.

    The story itself is predictable and manipulative, yet emotionally gripping. John Pollono’s screenplay follows the formula to the T, or should I say from Point A (the horrific event) to Point B (overcoming the obstacles and hardships) to its uplifting Point C ending (pride and redemption). That said, it all works most effectively, due its honest depiction of a man in crisis.

    And having that person played by the talented Mr. Gyllenhaal, a fine method actor who immersed himself in this real life role, gives the film the honest integrity and authenticity the film needs which helps to separate the movie from most biographies that wallow in self-pity and inner strength. Watching him struggle to come to terms with his injuries and finally walk with two prosthetic legs is gut-wrenching and Mr. Gyllenhaal shows his character’s human flaws and intrinsic hopes with the least amount of melodramatic excess. His performance deserves award recognition.

    Where the film truly succeeds is in avoiding the cliches of most biopics by making our hero too heroic and unreal (although some of the thick Boston accents are overdone). Mr. Gordon’s direction is concise and insightful. He never allows Stronger to weaken. His film doesn’t flinch from the ugly side of Jeff’s rehabilitation, his dysfunctional family, and his sacrifices just to lead a normal life. It wisely covers the issue of instant fame and becoming a pawn for network news, a necessary symbol of courage for a nation, even if our hero wants none of that adoration.

    The film does end on an inspirational false note, as most film biopics do, in a scene at the ballpark that takes a misstep into gross sentimentality and an unabashed shout-out to patriotism. But the story always remains compelling and the acting is superb.

    The rest of the cast could easily have played their parts rather routinely and still bring about the emotional clout: suffering girlfriend, loyal friends, worrisome parents, etc. But the actors shy away from the obvious and give their characters some gravitas. Ms. Maslany makes a fine partner as Jeff’s supporting girlfriend, showing the pain and frustration beautifully. Carlos Sanz as the man who saved Jeff’s life during the bombing, has a quiet and touching scene that is so nuanced and heartbreaking in its subtlety. It shows the collective despair of survivors and their kin. British actress Miranda Richardson, as Jeff’s boozy mother, is so memorable in her supporting role that she becomes unrecognizable, creating an indelible character while exposing her human flaws. Her rivalry with Erin brings needed tension to the family dynamics which separates this film from the run-of-the-mill inspirational saga. There are many scenes of undeniable pathos and melancholy, insightful moments in time, especially the parking lot confrontation between the two leads that builds to an emotional zenith.

    Stronger is a rarity, a powerful film based on a true life story that is true to life. With a strong central performance, fine direction, and a screenplay that works on many emotional levels, this is one of the year’s most satisfying dramas. Do not miss it!

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  • What does it mean to be a hero? Stronger, the new drama directed by David Gordon Green starring Jake Gyllenhaal as 2013 Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman, explores that question with honesty and sensitivity.

    Jeff is an ordinary, 28-year-old Boston native. He works at Costco, has a rambunctious family headed by his lioness of a mother Patty (Miranda Richardson), and is trying to get back into the good graces of on-again, off-again girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany), who has broken up with him yet again. Her main issue is that he just doesn’t show up. Knowing that she’s running in the marathon and eager to prove that he’s not a screw-up, he decides to surprise her by creating a banner and cheering her on at the sidelines near the end of the finish line. Just as Erin is nearing the finish line, the first bomb goes off then, a few minutes later, the second. Chaos ensues.

    It isn’t until the news reports show an image of a wounded Jeff that Erin and his family realise what’s happened. Congregating at the hospital, they learn that both his legs have been amputated. When an intubated Jeff awakens and learns what’s happened, he asks after Erin, makes a joke about being Gary Sinise’s character from Forrest Gump, and then shares that he saw one of the bombers. His description of the latter results in the bomber’s capture, and Jeff is hailed as a hero, a moniker he finds an uncomfortable fit. He’s just a guy who got both legs blown off, how can he be a symbol of strength when he’s still adjusting to his new body and learning to walk again?

    Gyllenhaal is nothing less than superlative. One can see him physically receding as more and more scrutiny is placed upon him, whether from the press, the doctors, or his family. There’s a familiarity that people suddenly feel towards him, as if he were a son or a brother or a husband. All Jeff wants to do is to be left alone and be with Erin, with whom he’s newly reconciled, but everyone just wants to keep the spotlight on him. The myriad of emotions that Jeff feels is masterfully conveyed by Gyllenhaal, who has quietly established himself as arguably the best actor of his generation.

    Perhaps one of the more remarkable things about Stronger is its unwillingness to venerate Jeff, who can be selfish, self-centred, and unmotivated to get better. As Erin points out, he’s not the only one who was affected – they’ve all changed their lives to orbit around him and he hasn’t even acknowledged the sacrifices they’ve had to make. One of the emotional highlights of the film finds him reacting terribly to some news from Erin – suddenly all the fears, frustrations and anger he’s been holding in boil over and one sees how horribly scared and desperate he is.

    Green’s direction is straightforward and unsentimental, which adds to the rawness of the proceedings. Whilst Stronger hits all the beats of this type of biopic, it opts to take the less-traveled paths and comes out all the better for it. What does it mean to be a hero? As Jeff and many other survivors prove, to be a hero is not to be invincible. To be a hero is to be human, to keep going even when you don’t want to, to offer comfort and hope, and to show up not just for others but for yourself.

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  • It’s kind of eerie that Hollywood is so chomping at the bit to put out films about the Boston Marathon bombings. I mean jeez, it was only four darn years ago.

    Take for instance, 2017’s Stronger (my latest write-up). It’s probably the umpteenth movie to take place in “Bahston” (the New Englander’s pronunciation of Boston).

    Stronger is about Jeff Bauman (played by Jake Gyllenhaal). Jeff attends the Boston Marathon to cheer on his on-again, off-again girlfriend (Erin Hurley played by Tatiana Maslany). As she nears the finish line, a bomb explodes near Jeff which causes him to lose his legs. During the remainder of the picture, Jeff tries to identify one of the bomber suspects, Jeff discovers that he’ll soon become a father, and Jeff renders his battered body through rehabilitation.

    Stronger strangely projects Bauman as the only one who ever suffered in the bombing tragedy. I don’t think director David Gordon Green does this by design but it feels like the media is drawn only to Gyllenhaal’s dramatis personae as opposed to any other denizen who lost a limb (and there were many).

    So OK, I loved 2016’s Patriot’s Day (another tragic, Beantown true story). I loved it so much that I considered it one of the best films of last year. As for Stronger, well I wouldn’t include it for this year. With a box office take of $6 million against a budget of $30 million, audiences have spoken just as I have.

    Stronger reminded me slightly of 1989’s Born on the Fourth of July. What can I say, as a critic movies always seem to remind me of other movies. The basic blueprint is a true to life persona who becomes disabled and then has to deal with the aftermath of his misfortune. The problem with Stronger, is that it’s not as compelling or epic as Tom Cruise’s Oscar winner. I wanted to shed a tear but alas, there was no real emotional response.

    Now don’t get me wrong. Stronger has raw acting of the highest order by stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany. And for the most part, the flick somewhat succeeds as a depressing, adhesive character study. Nonetheless, everything else in Stronger comes off like a snapshot or a melodramatic, R-rated TV vehicle. The movie lacks a feasible amount of character buildup and insight. And oh yeah, nothing on screen besides the lead performances, appears to be whole.

    Added to that, Stronger fails to find a clear resolve. It gives us an abrupt, pat ending with obligatory credits about the real life Jeff along with actual images of him. Two hours seems like not enough time to tell the account of Stronger’s legless subject. Heck, Stronger the movie is “light” as a feather.

    In retrospect, I think there’s an outside chance that Gyllenhaal and Maslany will get nominations at the Academy Awards (for Best Actor and Best Actress respectively). However, Stronger did come out in the month of September so that may hurt said chance.

    In conclusion, I will always feel sad for the victims pertaining to what went down horrifically on April 15, 2013. But to be blunt, I think I’m gonna take a break from seeing films with a Boston-like setting. The accents, the Boston Red Sox baseball team, the pretentiousness of the city displayed on screen. It’s all starting to get a little annoying. That’s the “wicked” verity. Rating: 2 stars.

    Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

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