When tackling a film like David Gordon Green’s Stronger, certain aspects need to be refined; it must treat the real life source with respect and honesty. At the same time exuding a sense of humour and solid performances to break the predictability of events in which we already know the outcome. Green’s somber look at Boston Marathon bombing victim, Jeff Bauman successfully hits all aforementioned requirements, bringing us an inspiring, moving drama that’s elevated by Jake Gyllenhaal’s flawless performance.
“Boston Strong” is the title placed on Bauman after losing his legs to a vicious terrorist attack. There’s moments he revels in his hero status, but we also see him break down and lash out as he learns to accept his position. The young man’s story from working-class Bostonian to American hero is rocky; bellowing along with soaring highs and rock bottom lows. He never seems to find peace after suffering a life-altering event — constantly in the spotlight. Even Oprah wanted an interview, a victim turned superstar with the help of his eccentric mother (Miranda Richardson), and the rest of the rambunctious Bauman family. His on-and-off again girlfriend, Erin — Tatiana Maslany treats the difficult, tender role with absolute class — helps Jeff navigate the trauma and period of resentment.
The spirit and courage used to knock away life’s violence and loss, no matter the toll, is what defines us. It’s what defines Stronger.
Stronger has every reason to be run-of-the-mill, an anti-climatic drama meant to rake in awards, something your mom and dad would spend a Sunday night enjoying. But it avoids that fate through Green’s treatment and comedic life support throughout. Interactions between the Bauman family are truly hilarious, a vital padding between scenes of hospital visits and flashbacks of carnage. It’s a testament to the director’s grand versatility, from humble Indie beginnings to brining Nicolas Cage back to life in exhilarating anti-hero story, Joe. It’s here that Green delves into the current uncertainty within Western life and psyche. With Gyllenhaal spearheading the message that even after flesh and bone are destroyed, there is opportunity to uplift and wash away the fear. We look closer at the heart and soul involved in resurrection after falling; the communion displayed as a city gets shaken but never loses its strength.
Visceral, human moments between characters bring Stronger to a level above usual Hollywood fare. The emotion comes to a head when Bauman meets the man who saved his life on the day of the bombing, Carlos (Carlos Sanz). They sit for coffee (beer for Bauman) and the conversation they share allows both men to gain admiration for one another. And not the type you see on daytime TV. Carlos reminisces about losing his two boys, one to war and the other to suicide, but the father was still out that day to save Bauman. The spirit and courage used to knock away life’s violence and loss, no matter the toll, is what defines us. It’s what defines Stronger.