Published Sep 08, 2017Movies about recent history tend to be tough for even the most established filmmakers to make — often the societal and cultural impacts haven't been fully felt yet, making it hard for audiences to unpack the moments in any sort of meaningful way (Oliver Stone's way-too-soon World Trade Center and David Fincher's overly fawning The Social Network come to mind). But director David Gordon Green's (All the Real Girls, Our Brand is Crisis) latest film, Stronger, breaks the mould; it also happens to be the best film of the two-time stoner comedy filmmaker's short career.
Based on the memoir of the same name, Stronger tells the empowering and emotional story of Jeff Bauman (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), a Massachusetts man who had his legs blown off by a bomb while standing on the sidelines of the Boston Marathon in 2013. He was cheering his on-again-off-again girlfriend Erin Hurley (played exquisitely by Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany) to the finish line when the terror attack happened.
As such, Stronger is a complicated story to tell, encompassing a range of emotions in its two-hour runtime related to love, loss, regret, shame and anxiety. But it's one that ultimately succeeds because of its two main leads.
Early on in the film, Green — working from a script by first-time feature film screenwriter John Pollono — focuses on the physical struggles of its main character, shooting over his shoulder and often as close as possible in the hospital bed or at home, in an attempt to capture the physical anguish. (The camera seems to linger uncomfortably long, whether it's steadily depicting his gauze being changed or failed attempts at using the washroom, and these scenes really allow the gravity of situation to sink in.)
From there, it's all about Bauman's mental struggles as he's thrust into reliving the situation (a memory from the day of the attack allows the FBI to track down the terrorists) and forced to cope with being a national hero while also finding the strength to be a future husband, father and all-around normal and kind human back at home.
Gyllenhaal delivers a tender performance that's sure to get him a few nods closer to awards season, but Maslany is the one who really stands out. Throughout Stronger, we see her character bear the brunt of Bauman's newfound celebrity and anxiety, which leads to more than a few breaking points shown throughout the film. It's a role that obviously required courage and confidence, and Maslany delivers both here, acting as the literal and figurative foundation in the film.
Stronger is an inspiring movie that finds all those involved elevating their powers, offering moments of compassion and strength — and just when it seems like the whole world needs it.