This is the second movie in less than two years revolving around the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013, seconded by the outstanding film PATRIOTS DAY (2016). Although, instead of focusing on the investigation into the event itself, we’re focusing on the city hero, Jeff Bauman. As I’m sure there’s more than a few people out there that don’t know his story, we’ll use that as my impression of what the movie is about. Bauman and his wife Erin Hurley were participants in the Boston Marathon. As Bauman waited for Hurley at the finish line, he was caught in the blast radius of one of the bombs the terrorist planted. He was also the subject a famous photo taken that day.
The image is cropped… don’t want to traumatize anyone with the whole thing, but to put it blunt, he was rushed to the hospital and both of his legs were amputated at the knee. It should give you a pretty good idea of what you’re in for in the first thirty minutes, I imagine. The movie looks like it’s going to be about how he worked his way back up, got his strength back and readjust to life. I can already tell this is going to be a tear-jerker because I’m getting a little choked up just typing this out. But I think it’s a safe bet this’ll be a damn good movie.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Jake Gyllenhaal (LIFE , ZODIAC , and OCTOBER SKY ) and Tatiana Maslany (THE WOMAN IN GOLD , THE VOW , and TV show ORPHAN BLACK [2013 – 2017]). In support, we have Miranda Richardson (CHURCHILL , FRED CLAUS , and THE KING AND I ) and Clancy Brown (THE GUARDIAN , STARSHIP TROOPERS , video game MASS EFFECT ANDROMEDA , and upcoming films THOR: RAGNAROK  and SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS 3 ).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have David Gordon Green, known for OUR BRAND IS CRISIS (2015), YOUR HIGHNESS (2011), and SNOW ANGELS (2007). Penning the screenplay is John Pollono, primarily known for television. Composing the score is Michael Brook, known for TALLULAH (2016), THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (2012), and INTO THE WILD (2007). Finally, the cinematographer is Sean Bobbitt, known for QUEEN OF KATWE (2016), ROCK THE KASBAH (2015), and 12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013).
Overall, I’m calling it, bring a box of tissues. But I’m expecting something great.
This is my honest opinion of: STRONGER
Set in Boston, Massachusettes, circa 2013. Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an average guy from Boston. He drinks beer with his buddies while watching sports, works a normal job, and wants normal things, like his ex-girlfriend Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany) to take him back. And when she tells him that she’s going to be running in the Boston Marathon, he decides he’s going to meet her at the finish line. Unfortunately, when he does, a par of bombs go off and Jeff loses both of his legs in the attack. He survives, his legs are amputated at his knees, and though he’s considered a hero to the city, he also struggles with everyday mundane things, just trying to keep everything together.
I want to say that this is a great movie, and in more aspects than I might mention, it is, but there are some serious problems that I have with this movie. At least, for what I was expecting out of it.
You know what, let’s tackle the problems that I had. There were some odd-ass choices that this movie made. For example, in the beginning of the film when Jeff is at the finish line waiting for Erin and he gets caught in the explosion that would ultimately take his legs, here’s how the scene is shot. It’s totally in Erin’s perspective as it happens. One explosion, pan around to her covering face in horror, and then for a good ten to fifteen minutes, Jeff is just no longer in the movie. You never see him rushed to the hospital, nothing. It cuts to some camera footage and news reels from the actual event, if I remember correctly, but what I do remember is that this entire time is dedicated to Jeff’s family. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if they didn’t feel like such clichés, constantly shouting over each other aggressively. Not to mention, while they do freak out about Jeff’s well-being, it’s not consistent. Sometimes they talk about money and financials, or just things that don’t feel like a real family concerned about their son being caught in a god-damned terrorist attack. And like I said, this goes on for a good ten or fifteen minutes before Jeff is reintroduced into the film.
But more than that, littered throughout the film, there’s moments where Jeff has to stop what he’s doing and has flashbacks to the bombing. Again, this wouldn’t be a bad thing. PTSD is real and would have been a great addition to the story if it was done well. But what they do is show quick snippets of the bombing itself. It’s only until toward the end of the movie, or at least well past the half-way point where we actually see Jeff on the ground, covered in soot, and with graphic imagery of his legs shredded. This confounds me because… I’m not sure what the purpose was in showing this later as opposed to showing it right then and there when the actual bombing takes place.
But otherwise, this movie is fantastic.
Gyllenhaal sells it like crazy and really delivers on a complex performance. He’s a guy who means well deep down, but because of what happened to him, his trauma causes him to lash out at everyone, no matter who they are. Be it mother or his girlfriend. He often gets drunk to the point of making him sick, or incredibly difficult to be around. But it’s hard to be very upset with his attitude because, he’s a survivor of a terrorist attack. That’s… what can you say to something like that? Incredible? Lucky? Miraculous? Whatever your choice of words, I think we can all agree that even though he’s treated like the city hero, he sure doesn’t feel like one, even if he was instrumental in identifying one of the terrorists involved, and he’s struggling with all of the baggage. The interviews, the borderline exploitation from his family, and just simply going the bathroom, it’s all its own personal hell for him and your heart breaks at all of it, and none of that would mean anything if Gyllenhaal wasn’t on his A-game.
But not just him, Maslany does a fantastic job as well. Erin is a woman who has always had romantic problems with Jeff, due to him having a knack for not showing up for her in the past. But after the bombing, she never leaves his side. She’s there for him to take him places, or pick him up. She puts up with him when he’s shouting and screaming at her, and does a magnificent job of putting up with his mom when she starts attempting to take charge of what he does with his life. You really feel for how much she’s trying to keep up with Jeff and even take her side during his tantrums as he barely shows any respect for how much she sacrificed for him. She quit her job, putting a serious stop on her own life because he keeps crying out for her, and it’s hard for her to tear herself away from him.
Overall, this is an acting powerhouse from the central leads. Gyllenhaal and Maslany make this movie great. It’s a tear-jerker, so I recommend seeing this with a box of tissues at the ready. Speaking of recommending, I highly recommend this. It’s a heart-wrenching journey of a man who’s trying to pick up the pieces of his life, fail more often than not, but leaves you truly inspired and rooting for him all the way through. Yeah, I think there were some bafflingly weird decisions made, both narratively and artistically, but this is a fantastic film if you can get past the problems I personally had, which may very well just be me.
My honest rating for STRONGER: a strong 4/5