You probably don’t wait for a film about the Boston Marathon bombing and then two turn up at once in the shape of Patriots Day and Stronger. But while Peter Berg’s film charted the police investigation and manhunt for those responsible David Gordon Green’s film focuses in on one of the bombing victims and the impact it had on his life.
Having recently broken up with his girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany) Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is determined to win her back. Knowing she is going to be running in the marathon Jeff heads to the finish line when one of the two bombs of that day explodes right next to him. Waking up in a hospital Jeff discovers he has lost both legs. As his family gather around him and a nation look at him as a true example of Boston Strong his relationship with Erin remains a bumpy one.
Based on the book written by Jeff Bauman himself the most notable thing about Stronger is its unflinching honesty. In any other story Jeff would be the hero who rises up from adversity to become great. But the power of Stronger is the Jeff is not necessarily a good guy. In fact at times during the course of the film he’s a bit of a dick.
As a result Stronger is rarely an easy watch but often an insightful and powerful one. It has the ability to lift you up and then bring your crashing back down to earth. Upon waking from his amputation Jeff’s only concerns are firstly to know if Erin is okay and then to tell people he saw one of the bombers. Straight out of the gate we’re heralding Jeff as a selfless hero. But then, due to forced fame, a troublesome family, a drink problem and a huge amount of suppressed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Jeff goes off the deep end.
It’s here that Bauman the writer is the real hero, for having the strength to look at who he was in that time and realise he was his own worst enemy. It is also here that star and produce Gyllenhaal shines brightest. To begin with he’s at home playing the good bloke, the puppy-dog-eyed guy who just wants to win his girl back. But Gyllenhaal has always been at his career best playing slightly darker, edgy characters – think Donnie Darko or Nightcrawler’s Louis Bloom. What clearly drew Gyllenhaal to the role, other than the obvious hope of award nominations, was Jeff’s story is less about his struggles of overcoming his disability, something he does with a grace few of us could dream of, but rather overcoming his inner demons that were presumably there long before he lost his legs.
A solid and honest film that while episodic does something different rather than just telling a story of overcoming adversity.