Opening voiceover, lifted from a morning news broadcast, indicates that the weather for the next day will be beautiful. “It’s gonna be a perfect day,” says the newscaster. That day–April 15, 2013–would be anything but.
Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal, who in 2015 played mountaineer Scott Fischer in EVEREST) works at Costco and goes to the bar to watch the Red Sox and drink pitchers. At work, he’s well liked, and at the bar he’s gently teased but clearly loved by friends. He lives with his mother (Miranda Richardson, CHURCHILL), which would be easy to make fun of if it didn’t seem like he didn’t seem like such a nice guy.
On the afternoon of the marathon, Jeff fulfills a promise to greet his ex, Erin (Tatiana Maslany, ORPHAN BLACK), at the finish line. It is here, just before 3:00 p.m., that two bombs exploded. The result was three dead and around 260 injured. One of the injured was Jeff, whose legs had to be amputated below the knee.
It’s a long recovery, with further pressure placed on Jeff by local admiration and media coverage. He’s hailed a hero immediately (in part because of his helping identify one of the bombers) and invited to interviews and sporting events. It’s in these instances that STRONGER shows what it really wants to be.
It must be nice to be asked to wave the American flag at the Stanley Cup, but what about when Jeff steps off the ice? It’s cool for Boston natives to see “Boston Strong” written on Sox players’ bats, but how can Jeff enjoy it when he can’t even reach toilet paper?
STRONGER is not just another “based on a true story” movie and it doesn’t constantly feel the need to inspire (although it undoubtedly does in many places). Instead, it shows the unrelenting power that trauma can hold on an individual. It can be easy to stamp the word “hero” on someone, but what is occurring in their core so often goes unseen and uncared.
Director David Gordon Green (who has helmed heavy dramas and stoner comedies in his career) provides a touch that admirably attempts to show who this person is, what the idea of heroics means and how localized a national story can run. Green is one of the few filmmakers and STRONGER is one of the few “true story” movies that wants the viewer to consider how much pain goes into a thumbs up for the viewers.
Much of the movie’s effectiveness is due to its cast, chiefly Gyllenhaal and Maslany. Both develop their characters as people, respecting what they have been through and who they are. Maslany is wonderful and emotional in her performance, while Gyllenhaal gives the most human performance of his career.
STRONGER never feels “too soon”, as can sometimes be the case with a story like this. This is because it’s not really about the Boston Marathon bombing and it’s not even really, when boiled down, about Jeff Bauman. It is about those that suffer and how they come to terms; it is about how we–those that have not suffered–can never fully know.
Video: 2.40:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. Details are strong and colors are healthy throughout.
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Subtitles in Spanish. Dialogue comes through fine, as do the score and effects.
Faith, Hope & Love: Becoming Stronger (29:25): This featurette uses interviews (including ones with actor Jake Gyllenhaal, director David Gordon Green and the real Jeff Bauman), on-set footage and clips to cover the plot, characters, production and more of STRONGER.