Monday, September 25, 2017

[Review] Stronger

Jake Gyllenhaal gives another tremendous performance in Stronger, an undeniably affecting portrait that focuses on one family's story from the aftermath of 2013's Boston Marathon bombings.

This film revolves around Jeff Bauman (Gyllenhaal), a man who lost both of his legs in the explosion at the finish line while cheering on his on-and-off-again girlfriend Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany). We follow Jeff as he copes with his life-altering state and as he embarks on his recovery--on physical and emotional levels. All the while, Erin remains by his side, taking on an unsung weight.

It's the type of tragic-to-inspirational biopic that could've ended up being hokey or overly melodramatic in the wrong hands, but the film strays away that route, thanks to director David Gordon Green's commitment to a grittier, blunt, and deeply humane tone. There's a dark reality amidst the surface glory and all the "Boston Strong" chants: The media and public bombards Jeff's life with prickly politics; his family practically uses him as a token; he experiences post-traumatic flashbacks while being honored at a noisy Bruins game; and he quietly battles with alcoholism and depression.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany both give resoundingly convincing performances, and they have plenty of intensely emotional scenes together that are so impressive that it might just place them in the Oscar race. Also great is Miranda Richardson, playing Jeff's brash mother who doesn't quite know how to handle the complications (Melissa Leo in The Fighter came to mind).

When it comes down to it, Stronger is all about love, loss, pain, and hope. Ironically, it's less concerned with the general definitions of strength and heroism, and more concerned with what it means to do the best you can under really shitty circumstances. And it's better for it.

* 8.5/10 *

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