by Charles Kirkland Jr.
A sequel to Patriot’s Day? Jeff Bauman comes back to the big screen in Stronger.
Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal)is a screw-up. He knows it. His co-workers know it. Even his ex-girlfriend, Erin (Tatiana Maslany) knows it. But despite being a screw-up, he has a good heart and everybody loves him. In an attempt to win back the love of Erin again, Jeff promises to forsake his beloved Red Sox to cheer her on at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. But as usual, Jeff is late and rushes to the finish line area to show his sign and watch for Erin. As he watches the crowd, he sees a man with a bag. He notices but doesn’t and then…
The events of the Boston Marathon were well documented in the movie Patriot’s Day starring Mark Wahlberg. Even though Bauman was so instrumental in the identification and capture of the bombers that he was in that movie, now the rest of his story is told in the movie, Stronger. Thankfully, the events of the bombing are little more than a backdrop to the story of this movie. The bombing and Bauman role in the capture of the bombers was done in the first ten to fifteen minutes of the feature. Bauman lost his legs in the marathon bombing and the main focus of this movie is how he recovers from that experience.
Director David Gordon Green helms this emotionally charged feature. Green’s prior works Manglehorn, Undertow, and even George Washington all used small town locales and close personal interaction to drive his stories. While Stronger is set in the city of Boston, Green finds a way to shrink the big city and make this story intimate. Instead of a story centered on just overcoming loss and tragedy, Green makes the movie about finding love and motivation. In one incredibly powerful scene, Jeff is getting his dressings removed. Green shoots the scene from the head of the bed where the source of the pain is out of focus and we are forced to witness the intensity of the connection between Gyllenhaal and Maslany. Like the bank scene in Manglehorn, where the couple sings, Green finds unconventional ways to create emotional intensity and connection. Jeff and Erin bond together through the winces and shouts of pain.
Speaking of winces and shouts of pain, the “King of Pain” Jake Gyllenhaal is at his best in this movie. Director David Gordon Green seems to well with big name talent having directed the likes of Al Pacino and Nicolas Cage, this time its Gyllenhaal. (I wonder if he got a family discount since it was just announced that Jake’s godmother, Jamie Lee Curtis is returning to the new Halloween movie Green is directing.) Gyllenhaal has always shown an incredible ability to express a wide range of pain throughout his career. It seems pain is the prevailing theme in most of Gyllenhaal’s work. If he’s not inflicting pain as in Prince of Persia (sorry I had to take that shot), he’s conveying it. From his work in Nocturnal Animals, Southpaw, End of Watch, and on Jake has established himself as the go to guy if you want someone to be vocal and expressive in portraying a tortured and complex character. He is a hard working, consummate professional with a long resume. In this movie, whether he is screaming for help, wincing in pain or just reliving the bomb blast, Gyllenhaal delivers it incredibly well.
After years of Emmy-worthy performances, Tatiana Maslany is perfectly cast in the role of Erin Hurley. While her movie roles have been limited, her work playing multiple roles on Orphan Black has provided her with the ability to reach the emotional depth necessary to play a woman who has to deal with her guilt and her love. Maslany’s performance as Erin Hurley is softer and more muted. In contrast to Gyllenhaal who gets to be loud and brash in his role Maslany is perfectly reserved and at the same time strong but when she lets go in her emotional outburst, she shines.
While the performances are wonderful and inspiring and the direction is excellent, the story itself is not as stellar. The problem with biographical features is that if you know the story, you know the story. Bauman’s life is pretty well documented and many of the things shown in the movie were already known. While some of them were addressed, it would have been very interesting and informative if the movie had further developed the military connections of the Bauman story.
Rated R for language throughout, some graphic injury images, and brief sexuality/nudity Stronger is a powerful movie about how the power of love and family and eventually community can overcome all obstacles. A little intense at times for younger viewers, it is a great date night flick that will shock you, make you cry and ultimately reaffirm your belief in the power of love and family.