Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson
Director: David Gordon Green
Running Time: 119 mins
Stronger is an American film about the true story of Jeff Bauman, a man who was caught up in the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, but inspired his city and the world as he recovered from devastating injuries.
With a great true story behind it, Stronger is so nearly a great biographical drama, thanks to great performances, strong emotion and an interesting take on the ‘never give up’ premise. For the most part, it’s a riveting film, however it just fails to be a truly brilliant watch due to a very cheesy and forced final act that really takes away from all of the great emotion built up previously.
However, let’s start with what’s best about Stronger: the performances. Despite a little bit of furore over the fact that Jake Gyllenhaal was cast in the role over a real disabled person, Gyllenhaal shows his worth with a great performance throughout as Jeff Bauman, both carrying out the likable everyman role while still bringing across great dramatic and emotional depth throughout.
As a result of the performance, you’re really able to sympathise with Bauman through the biggest ups and down of his recovery, and even side with him through what may at first seem like weakness and short-temperedness, which really gives parts of the film brilliant emotional power.
However, it’s not just Gyllenhaal that impresses here. Alongside him is Tatiana Maslany, who, although doesn’t always receive the same central focus as Bauman’s ex-girlfriend, makes her presence fully known throughout, and stands up strong as a co-lead to Gyllenhaal with her confident yet still emotionally tender performance. Also, Miranda Richardson is very impressive as Bauman’s mother, playing far more than just a caring parent to her sick son, and offering up another riveting character for the story through her fantastic chemistry with both Gyllenhaal and Maslany, making each of those characters’ relationships fully engrossing.
Moving on from the performances now and onto the story, where the film continues to impress, albeit not as flawlessly. Firstly, the opening two acts of this story are fantastic, as they not only give a great insight into the chaos that erupted in both the immediate aftermath of the Boston bombings as well as in wider circles, but feature great character-driven drama and emotion that’s fully enthralling throughout.
In that, you really do feel for Bauman as he struggles to cope with the reality of his situation after the bombings, and as he goes through huge ups and downs over the course of his recovery, you’re able to get a fascinating and emotionally powerful look into his psyche at the time. As well as that, the film puts a lot of focus on his friends and family, and how they are indirectly affected by his condition, with the ever-changing relationship between his mother and his ex-girlfriend proving the most riveting of all.
However, the film hits a big snag when it comes to its third act. While the opening hour and twenty minutes or so is a great biographical drama, the final third undoes a lot of that good work with a very cheesy and far shallower conclusion.
‘Inspiring’ is the clear buzzword for this whole movie, but I felt that Stronger did a far better job of that when it was telling a real story with real drama, not just the plastic and painfully patriotic ‘inspiration’ that comes towards the end of the movie, as Bauman is greeted and applauded by random people everywhere who thank him for inspiring them.
It may sound a bit cold of me to criticise such a detail, but the way in which the final act shoves down this supposedly uplifting cheese down your throat is really disappointing to see after two fantastically riveting and far more inspiring opening acts, and that’s why I’m giving Stronger a 7.4 overall.