“STRONGER” is an inspirational true-life story of Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal), the man whose iconic photo from the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing captured the hearts of the world. Based on Bauman's New York Times bestselling book, co-authored with Bret Witter.
STORY: Jeff Bauman’s story begins (literally) with him being seen working at the deli counter in Costco – he loves his job, just not as much as he loves the Boston Red Sox or Boston Bruins. It also reveals shortly in the film at a neighborhood bar that Jeff has had an on and off and on and off again relationship with Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany). Missing her he makes overtures to patch things up with her at the bar by promising he will have “a big old sign” congratulating her for running the 2013 Boston Marathon, which she was doing largely to raise money for a charity.
Not taking him seriously as he had disappointed her too many times for her to count by not “simply not showing up” for other things in the past, we see Erin seemingly welcoming his attention but not holding out any real hope Jeff has changed from his sometimes "childish demeanor". But this time and true to his word, Jeff does show up at the finished line with his homemade sign in tow, waving it over his head just as we seen Erin turning the corner completing her run. It’s that pivotal moment we see Erin witness the first explosion and the large cloud of smoke that would change both of their lives forever.
REVIEW: “Stronger” goes through the paces of watching Jeff regaining consciousness in the hospital with him using humor to deal with the sudden loss of both his legs, as well his ability to help law enforcement identify one of the suspects. But the overall arc of the film delves into Jeff’s emotional and physical battles with the unwavering support from his family in spite their over obsessions of celebrity status Jeff is receiving. We watch Jeff struggle with both his rehabilitation as well as his status of being told he was a hero and his day to day struggles in accepting it, sometime not understanding it and more so him sometime just hating it.
Gyllenhaal may have garnered a Best Oscar Actor nomination for his work here as well as for Tatiana Maslany in her supporting role as the supportive girlfriend. While Jeff was the one who lost his legs we watch for most of the film's 2 hours running time them dealing with the highs and lows of his legs gone by working as a couple striving together to survive this unexpected tragedy.
Both actors as well as the large supporting cast do a really great job in capturing that working class Boston suburbs lingo - rhythm of talking and their close knit community character that made them take on the slogan of being “Boston Strong”. But ultimately its Jake Gyllenhaal's work here that is brilliant. He wears both the agony of Jeff's pain and his self deprecating hilarity with heart felt sincerity and authenticity. We see the intimacy on Gyllenhaals face - his eyes as to what he is feeling in that very moment. We also see the intimacy in the physical hard work to re-learning to actually walk again with new prosthetic legs. Neither the film nor Gyllenhaal performance sugarcoats this man's story from his near death to his eventual recovery. I believe if in anyone else was in this film as Jeff this story would not have been as interesting nor compelling. Jake Gyllenhaal makes all the difference in "Stronger".
In the end “Stronger” is about Jeff’s’ recovery through some painful and frightening struggles to recover to getting his life back to some degree of normalcy. But its the execution of the film's moment to moment struggles that give it the feeling of something real every single frame by utilizing the patience and attention to detail to Jeff's sudden change in life from this ordeal.
If you see this in the theater and I recommend you do, you will see as I did how Director shows some tough and hard resilient moments, including Jeff removing the bandages for the first time, his gay Costco manager showing up at the hospital, Jeff getting a note from Erin and finally the meeting between Jeff and the man who save his life by tying a tourniquet on both his legs. All of these scenes are very powerful.
“Stronger” is not an Oscar caliber film, but it is a very good film about family, love and the rigors of rehabilitation. It is also about community pride and how it was the catalyst (in his case) into helping Jeff overcome his loss and thereby helping him accept his hero status from being a random victim without him dwelling (as best he could) on singularly not being just a victim.