Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson
Directed by: David Gordon Green (“Joe”)
Written by: John Pollono (debut)
The 2013 Boston Marathon bombing is given the cinematic treatment for the second time in two years and done so, once again, with heart and sensitivity for everyone involved in the fateful day. While last year’s “Patriots’ Day” focused on the crime itself and what it took to bring a pair of terrorists to justice, the drama “Stronger” takes a more humanistic approach with the story of one man whose life was changed forever in the blink of an eye. It’s a touching look at a personal fight for survival and how the idea of heroism is viewed during a national tragedy to lift up those who have been broken.
Academy Award-nominated actor Jake Gyllenhaal (“Brokeback Mountain”) stars as Jeff Bauman, an average Bostonian who was present at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 2013 cheering for his on-again, off-again girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany) when two bombs detonated in the crowd. When the smoke settled, it is revealed that Jeff has lost both his legs in one of the blasts. In an uphill physical and emotional battle, Jeff must learn how to live with his handicap all while reliving a day he would like to forget by reluctantly taking on the role of “hero” christened on him by a city in desperate need of inspiration.
Moviegoers are given that sense of hopefulness from Jeff’s story with Gyllenhaal’s subtle and vulnerable performance. Luckily, with director David Gordon Green (“Joe”) behind the camera, the storytelling strays from becoming too melodramatic or sappy. While Gyllenhaal doesn’t command the screen like in a lot of his previous work, the character feels meaningful and resonant. As Jeff’s supportive (ex)-girlfriend, Maslany from stands out with conviction in her most accessible film to date. It’s not a role that allows her much range like she has on her TV series “Orphan Black” where she plays a handful of different clones, but Maslany captures something beautiful in the way she exudes love and frustration as a sympathetic caretaker.
By confronting the more painful aspects of Jeff’s narrative, Green and first-time screenwriter John Pollono give audiences more than the cliché tropes that we would normally see in a film that could’ve easily been denigrated to Movie of the Week levels. Instead, “Stronger” is intimate, tender and heartbreaking in just the right amounts.