Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Lenny Clarke, Clancy Brown
Directed By: David Gordon Green
Plot: Based on the true story of Jeff Bauman (Gyllenhaal), a Costco worker who lost both of his legs in the Boston Marathon bombing and his road to recovery. He’s assisted by his huge family, including his on-again-off-again girlfriend (Maslany) and his mother (Richardson), who he still lives with.
What Works: The performances. Gyllenhaal has officially become one of those rare actors who seems to turn in an Oscar worthy performance every time out of the gate. I can only pinpoint one performance in the last ten years, maybe two if I was being really harsh, that didn’t at least deserve to be in the conversation. Here, he does a lot in the small moments, and even though this film does wander at times, he keeps every scene filled with his electric energy, so you feel more invested in the film. Tatiana Maslany is also excellent, and does get a few scenes to show off her skills as an actress. She’s excellent at looking and feeling exhausted. Miranda Richardson is transcendent in this role. I honestly didn’t even know she was in the film, and it took me a while to convince myself that it was her, and not just an actress who resembles her. This role is unlike any role I’ve ever seen Richardson play, and she’s probably the one I’d vote straight through to Oscar night. I’ll still be talking about her performance months from now. The film does a good job not canonizing anyone, or the event. It doesn’t try to pull you in with shock and awe. It saves the bombing aftermath for flashbacks much later in the film, and the impact is felt much deeper than if we were experiencing them in real time with Jeff. I also am normally cautious when going into a biopic about a still-living person, because I feel like they always walk on eggshells, and try not to really show the gritty dirty stuff. I applaud Bauman for putting several dark moments into the film, and allowing us into that world, because it made for such a better overall experience, and really rounded out Gyllenhaal’s performance. Shying away from those moments and making a happier film wouldn’t have had the same impact.
What Doesn’t Work: Because this is a true life story of a man whose (sorry this sounds rude) “biggest moment” was surviving the bombing, the rest of the film is really just about “recovery”. Either recovering physically or mentally, the film is just an endless journey of recovery. Because of that, Stronger could have been any length it wanted to be, from a movie, to a multi-season TV show. I’m sure there are many scenes that could have just as easily been included, and moments that work as tentpoles in his recovery, that could have been included. The problem here is that they didn’t know how much was too much, or what the right amount was. So it was written, and then shot, and they were trapped because everything they shot had Gyllenhaal pouring his blood sweat and tears into the film. It’s one of those rare occasions where I can both acknowledge the film has pacing issues, and is longer than needed, but also say that I understand why we got the cut we got. I would have had an impossible time trying to choose which scene to remove, because the acting is just so great, and these actors are all now in the Oscar race. Cut the wrong scene, and that could cost someone a nomination. I get it. I’m not mad. I just have to point out that a *ahem* stronger cut of this film would have been 5-10 minutes shorter.
Final Word: If you can go see a film just because the acting in it is tremendous, then you’ll love Stronger. The pacing isn’t too bad, because the acting keeps you engrossed mostly. Someone from this film better get an Oscar nomination, because all three of them deserve it. It would be a shame for the main three to all be shut out.
Final Grade: B+