‘Stronger’ – Film Review

Jake Gyllenhaal is sure to bag awards with this moving, complex portrayal of a bomb victim

Based on a true story, Stronger stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff Bauman, a man who lost both legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. He has to deal not only with a disability, but with a country that wants to turn him into a symbol of survival. With that description, you usually know what you’re going to get: a very good actor trying their damnedest to get an Oscar in a weepy drama with snot-sodden monologues and soaring strings on the soundtrack. Stronger is not that movie. Gyllenhaal could win countless gongs, and fairly so, but it will be for a movie that is far from lazy award-bait.

Director David Gordon Green’s CV swerves between stoner-bro comedies (Pineapple Express) and sensitive dramas (Joe). Both sides come into play here, not because Stronger is in any way a cheery comedy, but because it keeps a sense of levity, even when things get very dark. After the bombing, America wants Bauman to be the face of defiance. Bauman just wants to be who he was before: a goofy, decent guy, a useless boyfriend and someone who liked a drink. It’s not a film about becoming a hero; it’s about struggling to be ordinary after an extraordinary event.

Gyllenhaal gives one of his best performances as Bauman, always playing the man, not the disability. It’s not showy at all. He keeps things tight in scenes that could have been excuses for over-the-top emoting. Tatiana Maslany (of undersung TV show Orphan Black) is also excellent as Bauman’s girlfriend Erin, a woman who can’t leave a man she wasn’t even fully sold on before his accident. These are believably real people going through something unimaginable. It’s their lack of heroic traits that makes the movie so powerful.

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