It does not take much to convince me to see a film with Jake Gyllenhaal in it. I have sat through his good and bad films, and I consider him one of the greatest actors currently in Hollywood. He is one of those actors that forces you to forget that he is “acting,” which is no small feat. Once again, Gyllenhaal did not disappoint in Stronger.
Stronger debuted in theaters across America last weekend. Directed by David Gordon Green, the film stars not only Jake Gyllenhaal, but successful TV and film actress Tatiana Maslany as well. The true story of Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman is told as the audience gets a bigger glimpse at the tragic incident. The media at the time failed to cover the emotional distraught and internal conflict that Bauman faced afterwards. It is actually based on the book Stronger by Jeff Bauman and Bret Witter. The story is intense, of course, and it is also emotionally draining. There were few dry eyes in the theater.
Good acting is essential in a biopic because the audience must be drawn into the world that the film is portraying. The director does not have a “fantasy” world to experiment with because all of the events happened in real life. Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany perfectly executed their roles as Jeff Bauman and his girlfriend (now wife) Erin Hurley. Gyllenhaal delivers a great Boston accent, but he also captures Bauman’s personality and mannerisms. In a recent interview, Gyllenhaal stated that he asked Bauman how he gets up out of chairs and other similar movements so that he could portray exactly what it was like to lose both legs. It is these nuances that make Gyllenhaal such a prominent actor, especially in this role. Maslany is completely believable as Bauman’s girlfriend. Her life became a roller coaster after the bombing, and Maslany conveys that up and down emotion to the audience. A powerful story needs compelling performances, and I think the acting was the best aspect of the film.
Jeff Bauman’s life was dramatically changed from working at Costco to being Boston’s hero. He represented “Boston Strong,” the phrase that was attached to the memorable day in Boston. Bauman became somewhat of a celebrity just because he happened to be in a certain place at a certain time. I cannot even begin to imagine the emotional stress and burden that he endured, but Stronger does a fantastic job of detailing it. David Gordon Green uses traumatic flashbacks and thoughts to explain the PTSD that Bauman suffered. No one outside of Bauman and Erin had an idea of what he was experiencing, which made it all the more difficult. Bauman, before the incident, was capable of taking care of himself. Afterwards, he has to succumb all of his power to the caretakers around him. That transition set him back, but he eventually found a way to battle through it.
Although Stronger depicts something heroic, it is never exaggerated. Green never downplays Bauman’s flaws. He shows Bauman’s dysfunctional family, his breaking point in physical therapy, and the mistakes that he makes in his relationships. Nothing about these shortcomings screams “hero.” This decision to include all of these faults not only keeps the audience intrigued, but it keeps the story very realistic. No one can easily go from a life of anonymity to a life of fame overnight as Bauman did. The film ends on a positive note as Bauman begins to accept his new life, and he throws out the first pitch at the Red Sox game.
Stronger tells a profound story that not many individuals know both sides to. Solid acting performances and great directing helps shed light on the personal survival story of Boston hero Jeff Bauman. It is obvious that everyone who worked on the film wanted to present the true and realistic story of what happened. If you like inspiring but emotional films, do not miss Stronger.
Stronger is rated R.