UK Release Date: 8th December 2017
Runtime: 119 minutes
Director: David Gordon Green
Writer: John Pollono
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Clancy Brown, Frankie Shaw
Synopsis: A man is left in a wheelchair when his legs are blown off in the Boston Marathon bombings and, in the aftermath, he must deal with international media attention.
Now that Leonardo DiCaprio has won his Oscar, there are very few actors working in Hollywood who are owed an Academy Award as much as Jake Gyllenhaal. In recent years, Gyllenhaal has delivered a string of terrific and varied performances, including as a sleazy video journalist in Nightcrawler and a boxer locked in a custody battle in Southpaw. His latest role, landing in the heat of awards season, is as a Boston Marathon bombing survivor who became emblematic of the city’s defiance in the face of the terrorist atrocity.
Gyllenhaal stars as Jeff Bauman. He’s a Costco employee who brings a sign to the finishing line of the Boston Marathon in an attempt to win back his on-off girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany). He becomes caught up in the bombing and has both of his legs amputated. As he adjusts to life in his wheelchair, his family must adjust to their new life in the public eye. Jeff’s father (Clancy Brown) is sceptical of the media attention, while his mother Patty (Miranda Richardson) embraces Jeff’s status as the face of the ‘Boston Strong’ ideal.
Director David Gordon Green is best known today for his comedy films, but he deserves credit here for taking a slightly different approach to the material. He could easily have trod the same path as Patriots Day, which was a fairly straightforward, but incredibly emotional, telling of the story that focused on the criminal investigation. Stronger makes motions towards doing something different, with Gyllenhaal’s character proving to be a reluctant emblem of Boston’s reaction to the horror of what happened.
Gyllenhaal’s performance showcases flashes of the brilliance of which we know him to be capable. The film shows him driven almost to self-destruction by the pressure on him to be a symbol, most notably in one scene in which he says that, from where he’s sitting, the terrorists have triumphed. Miranda Richardson, too, is a standout as a woman taken over by her pride in celebrating her son’s survival and communicating defiance to those terrorists.
Unfortunately, these flashes do not form the main spine of the film, which is a far more ponderous and often laborious trudge through a basic tale of adversity. Jeff Bauman is clearly a remarkable human being and his story certainly warrants a big screen outing, but this is not a sure-footed take on that story. There are narrative side-alleys that the film is all too keen to wander down and this stretches the story out into a rather slow two hours. A tighter focus on the dynamic between Gyllenhaal and Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany would have helped the film to attain the level of emotional depth for which it is continuously reaching.
Much of Stronger feels like a sadly missed opportunity. Patriots Day, for all of its rather basic trappings, told the story of the marathon bombings in a far more affecting and potent way. Green’s film has many of the right ideas, but it doesn’t have the narrative focus to communicate those ideas in the fashion in which they need to be. It has the best of intentions but, emotionally, it’s a bit of a damp squib.
Pop or Poop?
A strong performance by Jake Gyllenhaal is not enough to pull together the disparate elements of Stronger, which is a slightly confused take on the harrowing true events of the Boston Marathon bombings. Unfortunately, it feels a little long and lacks the emotional resonance it needed to make the story and the character work.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.