Stronger is a biographical drama film directed by David Gordon Green and written by John Pollono. It is based on the memoir of the same name by Jeff Bauman and Bret Witter and stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Bauman with Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, and Clancy Brown in supporting roles.
The Story/The Direction:
This film tells the true story of Jeffrey Bauman (Gyllenhaal) runs into his ex-girlfriend Erin Hurley (Maslany) at a local bar where he learns that she is running in the Boston Marathon. He gets people to donate money to her team and that he will be at the finishing to hopefully win her back. As Erin is within the final mile, the bombing happens near Bauman. He loses both of his legs below the knee. When he awakens after the surgery, he reveals he saw one of the bombers. This puts him in the national spotlight not only because he survived the bombing but also because he helped find the people behind the bombing. As such, he becomes a hero even though that's not what he wants. He has to push himself to somewhat back to normalcy while also dealing with rehab, accepting his PTSD, and attempting to be in a committed and serious relationship with Erin.
Director Green does really well when the film focuses on the details of Bouman's injury. There's a cringe-worthy scene where they have to take off Bouman's bandages for the first time. The shot is focused on Bouman's face and his reactions. The injury and the dressings are out of focus and in the background. It is a really cool effect to show the pain that Bouman is in. He can't look at his injury and neither does the audience. Hurley then comes in and out of frame as she does not know how to support Bouman. This moment feels extremely natural and fully demonstrates Green's attention to detail. This is also supported by the fact that Green had hired the real Bauman's medical professionals for the scene to give a further authentic feel.
Prior the marathon, Hurley and Bauman were not together which brings up a very interesting question of if she is obligated to help him and she debates this throughout the film. She ends up helping but is always questioning if it's out of love or guilt or both? Is she required to hand hold him through everything or must he do it himself? She sees that others aren't helping him as she is and she takes it upon herself to help him. Bauman lives with his mother (Richardson) in an apartment that is not handicap accessible and she is pushing him to be a celebrity and a symbol of "Boston Strong." Bauman has no idea what this means and even asks one stranger who asks for a picture of him, "am I a hero for standing there and getting my legs blown off?" He ends up internalizing his issues or taking out his frustrations on Hurley which complicates their relationship. Both Gyllenhaal and Maslany give performances that are fantastic. They both are committed to their roles and make this film worth watching for their performances alone.
Its hard to be too critical of any film that is based on someone's true story and Hollywood knows this. It is a story that you have seen before about a person that suffers a horrible tragedy leaving him with a disability which he overcomes towards the end of the film. However, with it being a true story, that's not much of a flaw. There were also some things that seemed unbelievable such as the scene where the cop pulls Bauman and his buddies over. The film also does slow down a bit in the middle of the film when Bauman starts denying his struggles with PTSD and the narrative seems sort of messy at times because it's not traditional. This film won't have a montage so if an audience member goes in thinking there will be one, they will be disappointed. But again, it is hard to critique a film that is based on a true story too harshly.
While this film may be said to be cliche and have a lot of plot points that you have seen before, that does not make it any less moving. As shown in the final scene, different people get moved by different things. Green is able to focus on the details of how someone's injury not only affects the injured but the people around them as well. This is something that a lot of films in this genre do not cover and that something to be praised. Gyllenhaal and Maslany show both of these aspects to perfection and could be gaining some nominations for these roles. While you may not be moved by the cliches this film has, the performances can make this flawed yet great film worth watching at least once.
Rating: 4.0/5.0 bowties
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