Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Clancy Brown, Carlos Sanz, Frankie Shaw, Danny McCarthy, Lenny Clarke, Richard Lane Jr., Nate Richmond, Patricia O’Neil, Katherine Fitzgerald, Michelle Forziati, Sean McGuirk and Pedro Martinez.
Screenplay by John Pollono.
Directed by David Gordon Green.
Distributed by Roadside Attractions. 119 minutes. Rated R.
Jeff Bauman was dealt a massively unfair and completely tragic blow in his life, one which was caused by a dark twist of fate; being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Therefore, it feels a little hardhearted to point out that in the film about his life, a good amount of the time he comes off looking like a bit of a dick.
This is not an indictment of the film. This is a warts-and-all portrayal of an accidental “hero,” a normal and very imperfect man who gets swept into history through no fault or desire of his own. This guy just wanted to hang with his buddies, drink beer and talk about the Sox – being an inspirational figure was not even a consideration.
Bauman was one of the people standing near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 2013 when two terrorists set off pressure cooker bombs. Bauman was right next to one of the bombers (in a nice touch, the bombers are never called by name, just by the terms bomber or terrorist), and got the worst of the blast, losing both legs. However, his description of the terrorist helped to find the guilty brothers who set off the bombs. (Though not, I think, quite as much as the film suggests.)
What we never knew, and find out here, is that Jeff (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) was at that finish line kinda-sorta stalking his ex-girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany), who was running in the race. Well, stalking may be a bit harsh, according to the film he did tell her that he was going to be there, though she told him not to bother.
After the explosion, he loses all hope, for a good amount of time not even trying to rehabilitate. Instead he spends his life going out, getting drunk, getting into fights, watching sports and playing video games with his buddies, pulling off stupid stunts, mistreating his family and his returned ex-girlfriend (who had an up-and-down thing going with him, and felt guilty for her part in his maiming, so she moved in with him and his mother).
In the meantime, he hated that he was being looked at as a hero for something he wished had never happened to him. He didn’t feel like a hero.
I will completely grant you, if anyone has the right to give up and just wallow in self-pity, this guy did. Still, even as an audience member, it can get to be a little bit much to deal with sometimes.
But, you know what? The guy never claimed to be Superman, and he never asked to be a martyr for a cause. It shows a lot of bravery – beyond simply the bravery he showed just going on with his life – that he is willing to allow his filmed story to show him to be as imperfect as he really was, and is.
It leads to an oddball, but interesting, combustible love story. (Apparently Jeff and Erin have already divorced in real life before their movie made it to theaters.) Occasionally the movie relies too much on simplistic Boston Strong jingoism (a scene where it seems like the entirety of Fenway Park stops to tell Jeff what his bravery means to them comes to mind). And sometimes it relies on simplistic romantic platitudes – a baby will not fix all the problems in someone’s life.
Still, Gyllenhaal and Maslany bring realism and heart to their imperfect characters. A series of Boston Strong character actors also deliver as their families and friends, particularly a terrific Miranda Richardson as Jeff’s not-particularly-maternal mother.
Needless to say, a lot of this is hard to watch. At first, the film does not show much of the carnage of the bomb explosions, but towards the end there is an extended flashback which is horrifying in so many ways. There is also an extended scene in the hospital where he gets his gauze removed for the first time is very hard to watch, and this is coming from someone who is not squeamish.
Even with its flaws, Stronger is a fascinating story of an ordinary man whose life was inexplicably touched by evil.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2017 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 22, 2017.