Director: David Gordon Green
Screenplay: John Pollono
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Clancy Brown
Runtime: 119 Minutes
Of the first two major Hollywood features to tackle the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, Stronger feels like the more identifiably reasonable of the two (the other being Peter Berg’s intriguing but fatally distanced and compromised Patriots Day). Based on the memoir of the same name, this biographical drama follows the real-life story of Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal); a Boston native who tragically lost both of his legs during the bombing and struggled to find adjustment in his life when surrounded by a community holding him up as a hero when he didn’t really do anything to earn the status.
There’s a pretty typical story structure to be mined from the events, mainly surrounding his suffocating home life mother Patty (Miranda Richardson) and struggling girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany), as well as his difficulties coping both physically and psychologically with the lasting trauma that has come to define his entire being. But there is a sharper edge to some of its presentation that keeps it largely compelling.
Jeff is a sympathetic individual given his circumstances, but it really hammers home his lack of personal qualities as an underachiever who constantly seems unwilling to commit to anything long-term, or clean up any of the messes he makes in his own life. The arguments that erupt between him and Erin feel very muddled but real in their intensity, and his position being placed as some sort of emblematic figure in the media and the city feels like as draining and monotonous experience as it should.
Jake Gyllenhaal really is great here, even with the physical requirements of the role having his legs digitally removed and crawling and smashing into the scenery he handles the character with a balance of restrained emotional disorder and explosive acts of self-loathing rage. Tatiana Maslany is equally reserved yet convincing as Erin, and Miranda Richardson loudly takes up the scenery as his loud and smothering mother syphoning off much of the attention for her own satisfaction.
Director David Gordon Green has an eclectic back catalogue of different genres to his name (his next work being a new version of Halloween), but he’s very talented and keeps the focus as much as possible on the personal drama as opposed to big dramatic beats, even with a narrative build-up to his first pitch at a Red Sox game that feels rather arbitrary but is made into a form of narrative catharsis and growth. He doesn’t glorify the bombers or even draw much attention back to it, instead using the event to see how it affects the individual more so than the community at large.
Stronger isn’t a great movie, but it’s a well made and emotive one that feels in tune with its sense of home-grown Boston spirit, and much like its lead character its heart is definitely in the right place.