As Stronger opens, we meet Jeff Bauman (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), who seems like a decent enough guy, if not entirely focused or motivated. He lives in a tiny apartment with his overbearing, chain smoking mother (Miranda Richardson), whose idea of quality time together is spent at a local bar. When not working at Costco, Jeff is with his buddies, watching the Red Sox in his lucky seat with his lucky beer (an excuse he uses to get out of work on time for a game).
Things seem pretty easy for Jeff. He loves and lives for his city of Boston. So much so that he couldn’t quite make things work with his girlfriend, Erin (Tatiana Maslany), who recently dumped him. In an effort to impress her, Jeff promises Erin he will be at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, cheering her on with a sign for good luck. On April 15, 2013, Jeff kept his promise but his entire world was altered.
“Gyllenhaal – far and away one of our greatest actors working today – delivers an expectedly committed performance…”
David Gordon Green’s film is an account of Jeff’s personal aftermath of the Boston bombing, which claimed both of his legs. Last year, Peter Berg took on the tragic event with Patriot’s Day, a thrilling procedural, which documented the entire manhunt for the suspected terrorists. Stronger is a much more personal story. It’s Jeff’s story but it’s also the story of those closest to him, who were also affected by what happened that day.
Jeff is a simple man, who is thrusted into the spotlight for a reason most people wouldn’t want attention for. As Jeff is just waking up in the hospital, he first cracks a Lt. Dan, but informs the person in the room he saw the bomber just before he fled the scene. Jeff is immediately deemed a hero with signs and fanfare all around him proclaiming Boston Strong.
“Jeff kept his promise but his entire world was altered…”
Stronger paints the portrait of a reluctant hero, who can only muster up an obligatory thumbs up and a quarter of a smile. Jeff doesn’t know how to take all of the attention. Green and screenwriter John Pollono don’t shy away from illustrating Jeff as completely flawed and complicated. There is no doubt Jeff’s story is one of great courage but it doesn’t come without moments of frustration and anger or a lack of thought for those around him. Structurally and narratively, Stronger appears to be just another inspirational story – it hits all of the expected story beats – but there are nuances in the portrayal of its characters, which gives it great depth.
Gyllenhaal – far and away one of our greatest actors working today – delivers an expectedly committed performance as Jeff. There is an incredible range in playing the character and Gyllenhaal nails every turn of his arc convincingly. Maslany gives a strong supporting performance as Jeff’s girlfriend, who just wants to help him through this unfathomable moment in his life but also wishes he would just grow up already.
Everything about Stronger is rather straightforward but Green captures it tastefully and respectfully, carving out affecting moments in telling Jeff’s journey. As a director, Green has had a varied, if uneven, career and Stronger is a different – and more accessible – avenue for him as a filmmaker.
Stronger (2017) Directed by David Gordon Green. Written by John Pollono. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany and Miranda Richardson.