On April 15th, 2013, the city of Boston was rocked by a devastating and truly horrific event. Two young men, motivated by extremist Islamic beliefs, detonated two homemade explosive devices during what should have been a peaceful public event: the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed and numerous others injured. One individual, Jeff Bauman, sustained severe injuries and subsequently lost both of his legs from below the knees. His gripping story of his recovery and how he has adjusted to his new circumstances is chronicled in Bauman’s published memoir and now feature-length motion picture Stronger.
Jake Gyllenhaal portrays Bauman, a working class Bostonian with a loving family, knuclehead friends, a steady job, and an on/again/off/again girlfriend. His very normal life is soon disrupted by terrorist attacks and when he loses both his legs, he must adapt to life with his traumatic injuries. Stronger follows Bauman as his predicament impacts his family, friends, and everyone around him, especially his love interest Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany). Their rocky relationship is depicted in the film and aside from Bauman’s amputations, this serves as the film’s main conflict.
Gyllenhaal does some very fine work here portraying Bauman and it is quite possible that he might be nominated for some statues come award season. His pain is both physical and mental and this torture is quite prevalent in his performance all throughout the film. It must be quite process for an actor to depict that kind of suffering. Gyllenhaal does it very well and he is quite simply, electric.
The supporting cast is also really strong with Tatiana Maslany playing Bauman’s emotionally-drained girlfriend. She is not only a beautiful actress but she conveys internal pain very well too. Miranda Richardson and Clancy Brown play Bauman’s average middle class parents and they add even more realism and some humor to this sobering story. Everyone in Bauman’s life supports him after this tragedy and the togetherness and outpouring of love is not only a pleasure to watch but shines a bright light on humanity and those selfless individuals who sacrifice and go out of their way to help those in need.
Jeff Bauman is a symbol of those who don’t give up. The second half of the film focuses on Bauman’s intense and painful physical therapy and rehabilitation process. Jake Gyllenhaal should be proud of the tribute he has made to Bauman. Stronger isn’t just a movie about a guy rising above adversity. It is a movie about the human spirit and what it takes to overcome the odds. The terrorism we saw that day was horrendous but the resulting heroism is priceless. While Stronger may seem like a depressing drama, it does have some positive aspects, most specifically Gyllenhaal’s lead role and John Pollono’s screenplay which was adapted from Bauman’s memoir Stronger, co-written by Bret Witter. The realness of that book is translated beautifully to film and David Gordon Green’s rich, sometimes gritty direction makes the story all the more powerful. Stronger is a special film, telling an important story. If this film doesn’t get some award nominations, I will be very surprised. This is DEFINITELY on my radar.