You’ve got to feel sorry for Jake Gyllenhaal, who delivers an excellent performance in this true-life drama about Jeff Bauman, who lost his legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Over the years, and especially with the back-to-back releases of Prisoners, Enemy and Nightcrawler, the actor has proven himself to be a versatile and commendably intense performer, without the accolades to show for it. His latest awards bid failed yet again to generate the necessary buzz, and not for lack of trying. He ensures throughout Stronger that his average joe and reluctant poster boy for Boston’s resilient spirit is never painted as a saintly national hero, but instead a trauma-suffering survivor, prone to believable outbursts of pent-up anger and brutally intense mood swings.
It’s a shame that Gyllenhaal’s efforts and David Gordon Green’s sturdy direction are lumbered with very flat script, one which doesn’t mine the full potential of the media’s uncomfortably fetishising gaze when they thrust Bauman into an unwarranted public role in the midst of his rehabilitation. Bypassing the all-too-American appetite for demagogy and failing to stick with the honest depiction of trauma it initiated, the screenplay falls back on familiar beats about love being the one true redeemer, and a predictably formulaic final act worthy of your garden variety inspirational TV soap. This leaves us with a frustratingly conventional drama and unable to live up to its leading man’s committed turn. That being said, of the two films about the Boston Marathon bombings, Stronger is, well, stronger than Peter Berg’s Patriots.
Stronger | Directed by David Gordon Green (US, 2017), with Jake Gyllenhaal, Miranda Richardson, Tatiana Maslany. Starts April 19.
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