Saturday, September 30, 2017

Movie Review: "Stronger" (2017)

Director: David Gordon Green
Year: 2017
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 56 minutes

A man who loses his legs during the Boston Marathon bombing must put his life back together and find the strength to carry on with the help of his friends and family.

Often in tragedy, we look for people to act as symbols to inspire, uplift, and to spread a message of hope to all those who need it. Sometimes, we never stop to ask if that person wanted to be a symbol in the first place. "Stronger" tells the true story of Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman, played here by Jake Gyllenhaal. Bauman went to the 2013 marathon to support his on again/off again girlfriend Erin Hurley, played by Tatiana Maslany, who was running in the race. Jeff happened to be standing right next to one of the bombers, whom he would later help identify, and wound up getting his legs blown off in the blast. This film is about his recovery and his struggle to deal with becoming the symbol of 'Boston Strong.' "Stronger" is directed by David Gordon Green and is written by John Pollono based on Bauman's own biography of the same name.
During the chaos, Erin (Tatiana Maslany) stands speechless. (Image Source)
This is an emotionally powerful film. Jake Gyllenhaal puts on a fantastic performance in the leading role of Jeff Bauman. This is not a part that has lots of grandiose moments like many of the other roles he has played in past films like "Nightcrawler," "Brokeback Mountain," or "Prisoners." This is a far more understated, nuanced project for Gyllenhaal, but it is one of the first award-worthy performances we have seen this year from any actor. As Jeff, Gyllenhaal shows how difficult it is to recover from such a traumatic situation. This movie shows how becoming a symbol of hope and being paraded around in public often adds to Jeff's PTSD from the attack. It shows how a person reluctant to be deemed a hero has to cope with being thrust into the limelight. We also like the fact that Jeff is a flawed hero and often makes mistakes. He comes off as quite selfish sometimes and he fails to see what others have done for him during this life-altering situation.
As Jeff goes through grueling physical therapy, he may be able to walk again with prosthetics. (Image Source)
Speaking of what others have done for him, Tatiana Maslany is also brilliant in the role of Erin. She gives an award-worthy performance in her own right. Her role allows her to show it's not just the victim of the attack that is affected by it. Erin changes her whole life around Jeff in order to help him recover. The struggle gets harder and harder for her as other things to pile on top of her life, all while Jeff slips further and further into self-pity and self-medication (particularly with alcohol). Erin and Jeff have numerous emotionally intense exchanges and we constantly fought back tears throughout watching everything unfold. She is strong and vulnerable, loving and frustrated. Maslany and Gyllenhaal have tremendous chemistry with one another and make these parts come to life with their authenticity.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany give Oscar-worthy performances as Jeff and Erin. (Image Source)
"Stronger" does tug at your heartstrings, but the passionate, moving moments never feel phony or forced, and never, ever feel like they are being disingenuous. In another more ineffective piece of cinema, these moments would come off as cheesy or shoehorned in for added dramatics, but not here. The exchanges, the glances, the stories, they all feel completely natural and just wreck you emotionally, often bringing the viewer to a full-on sob, many of which we heard throughout our theater while watching.
Sometimes being a "hero" means more than you may know. (Image Source)
We also like how director David Gordon Green and writer John Pollono use this opportunity to bring to light the single most offensive thing that happens after these national tragedies: armchair conspiracy theorists who go around screaming about false flags every time an act of mass murder occurs. Jeff is approached by a couple of these despicable people in a bar, and we get to see how utterly offensive it is to tell someone to their face, someone who had his legs blown off, that the attack was staged for some form of political gain. It is beyond comprehension how people who spread bullshit like this sleep at night, claiming that parents who lost their children and other victims who lost body parts and loved ones are liars or paid actors. It's exceedingly difficult to imagine something more offensive than this.
A reluctant hero. (Image Source)
Sure, one could call "Stronger" formulaic. It's a typical underdog story sprung from an extreme circumstance. Some of Jeff's family members feel like overly exaggerated Boston caricatures. It has gut-punching moments of sadness followed by uplifting moments of triumph. But still, in the end, very few films this year have moved us as emotionally as "Stronger" has, and that takes precedence above all else when it comes to the art of filmmaking. It is raw and quietly powerful. We love what this movie has to say about the culture of heroism and the worshipping of symbols in times of tragedy in America. We enjoy the deviations from the typical "road to redemption" path Jeff Bauman must follow to get his life back on track. With two slam-dunk performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany under its belt, any problems we may have had with it being formulaic simply melted away along with our tears.

My Rating: 9/10
BigJ's Rating: 9/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 96%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment