Stronger review Jake Gyllenhaal Tatiana Maslany 2Year: 2017
Director(s): David Gordon Green
Writer(s): John Pollono
Region of Origin: US

Rating: R
Color, 116 mins

Synopsis: The story of Boston Marathon boming surivivor Jeff Bauman. (Source)

If you’ve been burned by the hollow hallmark quality of films “based on a true story”, I feel you. Stronger, based on the memoir of Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman, finally presents a true story that don’t feel cheap. Director David Gordon Green doesn’t hold back on gory details, both psychologically and physically, but uses grit to deliver one of the year’s most uplifting films. Still, this is as wrenching of a story you’ve ever seen, and making it connect, are knockout performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany, who better have some Oscar noms coming their way. Whereas most films in the genre stay surface, Stronger earns its title and respects its audience’s intelligence, putting us through a harrowing depiction of PTSD to shine a light on the beauty that arises from tragedy.

April 15, 2013. The Boston Marathon is in full swing with thousands of spectators and runners enjoying a time of unity and celebration. Waiting at the finish line is Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal), there to show some support for his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany). Before the two come face to face, however, bombs rock the Marathon, claiming fatalities, a significant number of injuries and Jeff’s legs. In the aftermath, a photo of Jeff being raced to the hospital goes viral, making him a symbol of the city’s resilience and strength. In realty, Jeff is scarred by the event both in body in mind. On the other end is Erin, who came out unscathed, but is battling her own demons as she tries to reconnect with Jeff in his most desperate times. Reunited in many ways, the pair face struggles individually and together, as they try to navigate a public asking so much of Jeff while his personal life suffers.

Stronger review Jake GyllenhaalWhat makes Green’s film so noteworthy are the complex relationships that drive Jeff’s life as he struggles to find a reason to live. Through this, Green illustrates how our lives impact those around us, that what we do or what happens to us has far-reaching consequences beyond just ourselves. Green’s intimacy (kudos to John Pollono’s nuanced and eloquent script) renders a profound portrayal of PTSD that works its way from the inside out, exploring its themes both from the perspective of its victim and those around him. No stone is unturned, showing Jeff’s reluctance to become a symbol of Boston’s strength, while those around him (the media, family) project their hopes onto him instead of creating an environment that’s conducive to Jeff’s personal healing. Putting us right in the thick of things, is Sean Bobbit’s striking photography, giving everything a doc-like realism and allowing scenes to play out naturalistically while unflinching close-ups draw us into each character’s headspace.

Anchoring things at the center, is Jeff’s relationship to Erin, an interloper to the family unit who carries her own guilt and pain of the bombings, alongside a family who isn’t as welcoming despite her genuine love for Jeff. It’s through this relationship that the story finds its saving grace, showing that just as fear can spread so quickly, so too can courage, love and compassion.

Stronger review Jake Gyllenhaal Tatiana Maslany 3With such a character-centeric approach, the ensemble is unmissable. Jake Gyllenhaal adds another winning performance to his growing collection of diverse roles, making Jeff feel totally real, rendering depth through a powerhouse performance. Gyllenhaal puts his entire being into the role – a sense of humor that hides frailty, a physicality that makes us believe Jeff’s wounds and a genuine longing to not let those around him down are all elements of Gyllenhaal’s palpable torment and pain. You don’t doubt what he’s going through for a second. Not to be outdone, Tatiana Maslany matches Gyllenhaal note for note. Fighting her own battles and psychological scars, Maslany gives the story its heart but is also a realistic portrait of guilt, weariness and perseverance. Green is smart to focus on Maslany’s Erin almost equally, giving her performance the air time it deserves and allowing the story’s themes to come full circle. Supporting, Miranda Richardson’s Patty headlines an excellent backing cast, fleshing out Jeff’s family and friends in a well-rounded way.

Stronger is unflinching and hard to get through at times, but leads to a place of unmistakable inspiration. From Green’s detailed, humane execution, to the killer performances of Gyllenhaal and Maslany, this film proves that true-life stories can adapted with heart and realism without pandering or fake sentimentality. When all is said and done, Stronger makes us realize how connected we are to one another, and that living is a choice – sometimes a painful one full of trials and horrific uncertainty, but absolutely something worth fighting for.

SG