Stronger is based off the memoirs of Jeff Bauman, who lost both of his legs on the day of the Boston Marathon bombing. It’s a first-hand account of what it means to emotionally and physically recuperate from a horrific event.
Much like in Patriot’s Day (see our review), which chronicled the extensive manhunt in Boston for the marathon bombers, real-life news clips are weaved into the film. The most significant of them all is the iconic photo of the real Bauman and the man in the cowboy hat who saved him.
Though the real-life Bauman assisted in identifying one of the suspects, little time is spent on addressing the actual bombing. Instead, the focus is on telling the story from Bauman’s point of view. While I had expected a picture-perfect Hollywood makeover of his recovery, I was surprised to see the nitty-gritty version instead, with Bauman’s flaws as an individual on full display.
Despite being thrust into the spotlight and hailed as a hero for Boston, Bauman (played by Jake Gyllenhaal, last seen being incredibly annoying in Okja) quietly suppresses his own issues – namely PTSD – and is unable to get back on his feet, both figuratively and physically.
Gyllenhaal is quite simply the perfect choice to portray Bauman. Aside from the similarities in physical appearance with the real-life Bauman and his flawless Boston accent, Gyllenhaal’s ability to deliver raw emotions tugs hard at the heartstrings, especially during the scene after the big fight with girlfriend Erin (Orphan Black‘s Tatiana Maslany).
The helplessness and fear he displays in that moment is so heart-wrenching that it is almost difficult to continue watching. And we all know Maslany is a heck of an actress (what with her twin-ning all over the place in Orphan Black), but finally seeing her playing a single role is quite a treat.
Her chemistry with Gyllenhaal is strong and her ability to deliver the subtlety of an emotion is impeccable. From the loving and affectionate gaze to the about-to-cry quiver of her lips, Maslany completely nails it in her first feature film role.
A great mix of veteran actors, the supporting cast helps create a real, rowdy Boston family. A real surprise is Briton Miranda Richardson, blending into the mix perfectly as Bauman’s mother, Patty. Like Gyllenhaal, she pulls off a convincing Boston accent and is a standout despite having hardly any dialogue for Richardson to express her thoughts on what happened to her son.
Unlike other triumph-against-the-odds movies, Bauman has a rather flawed support group around him. The relationship strains he experiences are relatable, as this is a real view of an everyday blue collar family attempting to accommodate the sudden drastic change in their lives.
Though Stronger doesn’t have the overt positivity of most inspirational films, it still serves to reminds us that life can be unpredictable and how we overcome adversity is always a choice.
Stronger opens in Singapore today (September 21). Tell us what you think of the movie!