HOLLYWOOD—There are those movies that you watch that stir emotions in you that are difficult to describe. Your eyes are opened to realize some of those minimal things you complain about are nothing compared to what others are enduring. That is precisely the power of the biopic “Stronger” starring Oscar-nominee Jake Gyllenhaal. The film is based on the memoir by Jeff Bauman who had both of his legs amputated after being severely injured during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
Gyllenhaal stars as Bauman and delivers a tour-de force performance of a man whose life was upended by a terrorist. Watching the film “Stronger” is not really a character study so much; I see it much more as a film looking at how one’s perspective of life can be severely altered in the midst of tragedy. In the case of “Stronger,” we see Bauman grapple with newfound celebrity after he is heralded as a hero for helping authorities locate the suspect responsible for the attack.
The constant media attention begins to cause Bauman to have flashbacks of the incident, causing his mental psyche to reach its breaking point; he is suffering from PTSD, but his alcoholic mother, Patty (Miranda Richardson), has no idea that her actions are more detrimental to her son’s overall coping skills than she expected. That creates friction with Jeff’s girlfriend, Erin (Tatiana Maslany), who senses and realizes the media attention is hurting her boyfriend more than it’s helping him. Richardson delivers fine work, but Maslany also shines in the film with a performance that is quiet, but inspiring in strength.
Gyllenhaal takes on a heavy role and does it with poise, a quiet level of power, confidence and gripping scenes that involve the actor venturing into very dark places. “Stronger” is a movie that forces the viewer to dig deep; not just witnessing the growth of a man in a downward spiral, not just physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Seeing the dynamic play out between Jeff and Patty as she enables him to utilize alcohol to grapple with his condition and notoriety is eye-opening. Why? It occurs often in daily life, more than we’d like to acknowledge. Director David Gordon Green stages the drama in a way that it isn’t overly sappy or puts the viewer in a position where they feel the drama is oversaturated.
Be warned “Stronger” is not “Patriot’s Day.” While both films are about the Boston Marathon bombing incident, “Stronger” stays firmly focused on Jeff’s tale and how we see him evolve from the start of the film to the end of the movie. “Patriot’s Day” was more of a crime thriller where the narrative focused on the hunt to catch the culprits involved. While the bombing scene is stirring in both flicks, “Stronger” delivers a stronger punch as we see the long-lasting effects of the incident on a character whose life was already in turmoil to begin with. This is a powerful film that has the ability to change one’s life, not to mention to watch acting that is worthy of an Oscar-nomination in Mr. Gyllenhaal himself.