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Stronger (Jake Gyllenhaal/Tatiana Maslany) - DVD Review


Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

JAKE Gyllenhaal’s Stronger is the type of personal triumph against the odds tale that Hollywood often excels in. But thanks to David Gordon Green’s rawer, more intimate approach to directing, it feels less contrived and award baiting than usual, which makes its achievements all the more impressive.

The film chronicles the true story of Jeff Bauman, an everyman supermarket worker who loses both his legs during the Boston Marathon terrorist attack of 2013. Immediately hailed as a hero and a symbol of ‘Boston strong’, Bauman determines to one day walk again.

But as the pressures of his newfound celebrity and hero status take their toll, Bauman finds himself fighting a mental battle as well as a physical one in order to get his life back on track.

At first glance, Green’s film would seem to be Gyllenhaal’s Born On The Fourth of July… a film that finds the actor overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds while channelling every anguished emotion along the way. The backdrop of the Boston Marathon bombings, meanwhile, lends extra significance to a world [and nation] still living in the shadow of the war on terror, while affording the opportunity for some gung-ho patriotism.

But Green seeks to avoid the more obvious storytelling devices in favour of the more real and intimate. Hence, while taking audiences on a more difficult journey, his film feels more authentic for it.

The first indicator of this comes during the bombing itself, which isn’t captured in any great detail. Rather, it’s seen from the point of view of Bauman’s ex-girlfriend, Erin (Tatiana Maslany), as she strives to complete the marathon, only to hear the big bang in front of her and see the clouds of smoke it generates. Gyllenhaal’s Bauman is only witnessed in news footage being carried from the carnage. But, again, this is conveyed via Erin’s view of the coverage.

Green does revisit the scene belatedly, but in a manner that reflects the PTSD being suffered by Bauman. And even then, it’s a confused reality, befitting the state of mind of Bauman’s character.

Stronger frequently opts for the messy over the showy. Further evidence of this comes from sequences involving Bauman using the bathroom or having the stumps of his legs fitted for prosthetics – small details that paint a bigger picture of the type of everyday turmoil experienced by survivors of such things.

By doing so, it affords Gyllenhaal the opportunity to really delve into the psychology of his unlikely hero, thereby delivering a warts and all performance of genuine worth. His Bauman feels like a fallible human being – one that is prone to unlikeable (but understandable and relatable) outbursts, but whose determination and strength of character is as inspiring as it should be. Hence, the film earns any tears that audiences shed, while feeling genuinely uplifting come the poignant – but similarly low-key – finale.

Gyllenhaal is more than matched by Maslany, who is every bit as strong as his long-suffering on/off girlfriend Erin, expertly channelling the doubts, insecurities and guilt that her character feels at every turn in Bauman’s journey. Maslany represents the silent, often unseen victim of such tragedies… the carer whose own lifetime ambitions are curtailed by having to cope with a debilitating condition. But she does it in a hugely endearing fashion, making her journey as worthwhile and heroic (in its own, much quieter way) than Bauman’s.

Miranda Richardson also excels as Bauman’s mother, Patty, even if Green’s depiction of the wider Bauman family is the only time the film feels like it might be sinking into ‘cliche’, channelling the likes of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook in its portrayal of these foul-mouthed, larger-than-life characters.

But in all other respects, Stronger looks and feels authentic: a subdued, raw but honest portrayal of personal triumph that also finds time to analyse the notion of heroism and what it means to those living with its ‘burden’.

It may not always be an easy watch, but Stronger is all the more worthwhile and rewarding for it.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 1hr 59mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: April 9, 2018