Stronger: To Live Again
Director David Gordon Green’s Stronger is an inspirational film about one man learning to live again after the bombing at the Boston Marathon where he lost his legs. The film is a conventionally told true story with terrific performances featuring well-earned emotions, as well as, the idea of faith. It really is a film about the human spirit, and how we can find strength from within.
Based off the book with the same title, Jeff Bauman (portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal) was working in a restaurant, when he decided to watch his ex-girlfriend, Erin Hurley (portrayed by Tatiana Maslany in her first major role since Orphan Black), participated in the 2013 Boston Marathon. While there, he was struck down by a blast from one of the bombs, and lost both of his legs. Winding up eventually in the hospital, unconscious, Bauman had both of his legs amputated at the knees and his survival story wound up becoming a symbol of hope.
David Gordon Green is an indie director, who turned to comedies, like Pineapple Express, and then returned back again to smaller pictures, like Joe with Nicolas Cage. Stronger is very much a traditional biopic. There isn’t much in the way of flashy direction or a difference in storytelling. Green doesn’t really give the film any actual “style”, beyond drowning out sound in a scene in which Hurley looked around after the bombing. Helping the film is Michael Brooks’ musical score, which is effective in creating a sense of drama and despair. Additionally, the use of special effects makes it appear that Gyllenhaal has no legs.
Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain, Prisoners, Nightcrawlers), speaking in a typical Boston accent, plays a man trying to reclaim the ability to walk. What makes Gyllenhaal’s performance so special, is just the amount of physical pain his character has to go through, and how much he manages to successfully convey this. When his character tried to walk to the front of his apartment, using his prosthetics, he suddenly breaks down and cries, and I actually felt emotional and sympathetic towards him, which proves how great this performance really was. Tatiana Maslany (Woman in Gold) is also terrific as Jeff's ex-girlfriend. You see her anguish, her relief, and then, her pity towards him, as, in her eyes, he refuses to “grow up’. I especially love it when she’s sitting next to Jeff, comatosed, in the hospital, and she says “I’m sorry”. That was some good acting, if I ever saw it.
Miranda Richardson (Sleepy Hollow, Empire of the Sun) plays Jeff’s overprotective mother. She and Erin have a great scene together as they get into an argument over Jeff while he’s trying to put his prosthetics on. You can see how hard his mother is trying to shield her son. The great Clancy Brown (Shawshank Redemption, Spongebob Squarepants) plays Jeff’s father, and though it's nice to see him in another feature film, he’s, unfortunately, not given much to do. His character’s brother, Sully, is played by Richard Lane Jr., who has a great scene with Jeff after waking up in the hospital and he writes on a sheet of paper: “Lieutenant Dan” (a film reference to Forrest Gump). Another great scene that stood out for me, was between Jeff and Carlos Arredondo (played by Carlos Sanz), a Costa Rican activist, who rescued Jeff after the bombing, and later on, related how he had lost both of his sons.
Stronger is a good heroic tale, and Jake Gyllenhaal definitely deserves an Oscar nomination. It’s a film you should check-out, especially for anyone connected to Boston and the Marathon.
Now playing in Hanover at The Nugget - Everyday 4:00, 6:40 PM; Saturday and Sunday Matinees 1:20, and Friday and Saturday Evenings 9:15 PM.