Stronger Review: An Intimate Tale on Perseverance
Last year, Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg treated us to the abysmally offensive Patriots Day, which attempted to make the fictional Tommy Saunders a household name. This resulted in one of the worst cases of capitalizing on a tragedy for mainstream audience appeal. This year, David Gordon Green’s Stronger takes that same tradgedy, and focuses on the world renowned “hero” Jeff Bauman and his struggle with a life-changing injury, his well-intentioned family and his relationship with his on again/off again girlfriend, Erin Hurley.
What David Gordon Green focuses on in Stronger isn’t the bombing itself, but rather how the Bauman family, and those around the world, react to Bauman’s “hero” status. The thing about Jeff Bauman, (and everyone else in the world) is that he isn’t exactly a model citizen. He’s selfish, a heavy drinker and expects everyone to cater to his needs, before the accident nonetheless. At some point he’s even downright unlikable, which is a risky move talking about a protagonist.
Jake Gyllenhaal is electric as Jeff Bauman. It’s no surprise that Gyllenhaal can give an Oscar worthy performance with any given role he plays, and Stronger is one of the highlights of this young actor’s career thus far, and that’s saying something considering the caliber of acting Gyllenhaal is capable of. His performance is nuanced and appropriately flawed, not once giving off the sense that he’s acting, or playing someone else. I’m from Boston and I didn’t see Jake Gyllenhaal, I saw Jeff Bauman.
Tatiana Maslany is exceptional as Jeff’s ex-girlfriend turned wife, Erin. Gyllenhaal is the face of this Oscar contender, but it would be a damn shame if Maslany’s work goes unnoticed. Her understated screen presence spoke volumes, ranging from her most vulnerable self, to a no-nonsense strong woman who does anything but spoon feed you. You are invested in Erin’s story just as much as Jeff’s; I would even argue more-so in certain situations. A brilliantly executed scene between Jeff, Erin and Jeff’s mother, Patty, that takes place after one of Jeff’s therapy sessions in the parking lot of a hospital. The scene is wonderfully acted by all three parties, and it’s as raw as they come.
Stronger doesn’t shy away from the “Boston Strong” phenomenon, and how some may take offense to that statement. Jeff doesn’t think he’s a hero, and for ninety-five percent of the run time, he fails to believe it to be true. The small and intimate story Gordon Green never shies away from is what makes this story so relatable. Not once did I feel like I was watching a movie, but rather a fly on the wall during someone’s traumatic life-changing event. A bandage scene in the first act of the story, where Jeff’s knees are exposed for the first time is unflinchingly authentic, and stands out as the most memorable scene in Stronger. A simple over-the-shoulder shot with two actors giving it their all in the center of it, is a scene I won’t forget anytime soon.
The relationship with Jeff and the man who saved his life with the cowboy hat, Carlos, is an ongoing subplot that Jeff is terrified of facing. Once the two finally meet, some of the most honest and heartfelt acting ensues that I’ve seen all year. Never feeling so sentimental that it’s manipulative, but rather a quiet, emotional moment between one hero to another that had me holding back tears until the final credits. Speaking of, watch out for the scene outside of Fenway Park during the final act of Stronger. Another scene that under a lesser director would fail miserably, but instead, gives true meaning to the word “hope,” that is tossed around in every genre cliche imaginable, feel raw and powerful.
Stronger is a perfect example of why Patriots Day is such an offensive film, and why it should be the only “Boston Marathon Bombing Movie” you should ever see.