Nick has a deep interest in film and cinema, dreaming of one day being a successful film pundit.
Stronger is a biopic directed by David Gordon Green, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany. The film depicts the true-life events surrounding Jeff Bauman (Gyllenhaal), a victim of the 2016 Boston Marathon Bombings. Bauman lost both his legs as a result of the blast, and the film follows his recuperation with the help of his girlfriend (Maslany) and family members. At the same time, Bauman is met with overwhelming attention by the media, and he must also learn to cope with this unexpected, near-celebrity status while battling the trauma of his experience.
If Peter Berg’s Patriots Day is any indication of whether it’s too soon to release a film involving the Boston Marathon Bombings (not too long ago from the time of this article’s writing), then it must be said that it simply isn’t, as long as it is respectful as possible. While director David Gordon Green has shown his mettle in films such as Pineapple Express and Joe, it is the two leads and the prospect of a deep, character study that should get audiences excited about Stronger. Could this be yet another inspiring tale of the human spirit, or a sappy melodrama which doesn’t do its real-life counterparts justice?
What Stronger does unexpectedly well is its decision to show the main protagonist as a very flawed character, even after his horrific injury. We are made to empathise with a man who has recently lost his legs and is suffering some serious post-traumatic stress disorder, but we also see his imperfections as a human being, and how this brings out the strength, patience and eventual frustration from Tatiana Maslany’s character. The acting in Stronger is one of the strongest in 2017, and David Gordon Green’s expert direction ensures that he can bring horrific, comedic, or heartfelt moments to the audience whenever he wants. The screenplay can feel very clichéd at times, but a solid execution means that Stronger is one of the more emotionally satisfying films of the year so far. If you are a fan of biopics, impeccable character development and/or Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany, Stronger comes highly recommended.
Jake of all Trades
The best part of Stronger is without a doubt Jake Gyllenhaal’s lead performance as Jeff Bauman. Gyllenhaal shows yet again why he is one of the best and most consistent actors working in Hollywood today. He is incredibly locked in in this role, and we see Bauman’s physical pain and mental struggles through Gyllenhaal’s expressive acting. We wince at his every fall. We feel his shock through flashbacks. It’s as if he is an embodiment of Bauman’s psyche that we believe in, and can be invested in, despite not even knowing the real-life individual. Tatiana Maslany’s portrayal as Bauman’s girlfriend, Erin, is equally strong, as the authenticity and sincerity she brings to the role is the type only accomplishable by one of the best actresses in the industry. Often, we are compelled to see events from her character’s viewpoint, as the dynamic of her relationship shifts to a more unfavourable nature. The chemistry between the two leads is very good, and is part of the reason why the film is so engaging.
Stronger is a film that is aptly named, literally dealing with the strength of an individual affected by a disaster, and the impact that individual can have in unifying a community. Here, Bauman is shown and paraded as a symbol of hope and resilience of the human spirit, even at the ironic expense of Bauman’s mental strength and self-respect. The film isn’t afraid to showcase the Bauman character’s personal life and the darkness it possesses, while pulling on the audience’s heartstrings on many an occasion. Don’t be surprised if you have tears in your eyes at the end of the two hours.
A Step Off the Mark
The most negative thing that can be said about Stronger is that is does follow many classic tropes and beats of a story involving characters recovering from an accident or major physical setback. Heck, it even has a scene where Bauman looks sadly out a window and sees boys happily playing football on the street. Plot-wise, it’s predictable. But if that’s what really happened in real life, what more can one ask for? David Gordon Green and the writing team have created a well-paced screenplay with interesting characters, and translated it to the big screen in a remarkably impactful fashion.
While not being a tremendously memorable biopic, Stronger does what many great movies do: make the audience feel, put us in a character’s shoes, and keep us invested from start to end. Jake Gyllenhaal put in the type of lead performance that would be called a snub if he were to be overlooked for awards consideration, whereas the film in general is one of the better releases of 2017. Whether it will resonate with audiences (and their wallets) is still presently unknown, but the production team’s passion and care is one to be appreciated and celebrated, for their success in sharing one man’s incredible story with the world.
Overall Score: 8.1/10