Fans of Jake Gyllenhaal and true-life dramas retold on film will find “Stronger” both heartbreaking and inspirational. Starring as 2013 Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman, Gyllenhaal teams up with movie newcomer Tatiana Maslany to give an emotional account of how Bauman persevered through horrendous injuries to overcome mental and physical adversities.
The teamwork between Gyllenhaal and Maslany is the best on-screen, give-and-take relationship since last year’s supportive twosome of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone shined in “La La Land.”
“Stronger” flourishes because it’s always focused on relationships in Bauman’s life, rather than the bombing and the two terrorists that gripped Boston and the nation four years ago. In Gyllenhaal’s best physical acting to date, we see a simplistic twentysomething in love—only to find his life forever changing in the blink of an eye. Using his razor-sharp wit, it’s Gyllenhaal’s maimed Bauman character that holds his family together until grief, depression and hopelessness set in.
The film’s greatest attribute is it that places each of us in Bauman’s hospital room. And in his wheelchair. We wonder, as Gyllenhaal does, how we’d struggle to find our old life and chase new relationships with relatives and loved ones. Bauman must contemplate a reliance upon others every day—no, make that every hour—just to get around. Strangers point to Bauman’s survival as a victory against terrorism, but Gyllenhaal’s role is unmistakably shaken to his core as he tries desperately to avoid placing himself in the loss column.
Despite being mostly predictable, “Stronger” still holds the audience’s attention throughout. It smartly frames the hero status bestowed on Bauman by the media against the uneasiness to which the rabid Boston sports fan grapples in the public limelight. A touching and combative ordeal unfolds as family dynamics are stressed and relationships tested in terms of heartache and PTSD issues. Director David Gordon Green goes to great length to show how hard rehabilitation can be, as well as living with someone who can’t care for themselves.
Brilliant acting shines bright in this true story, taking viewers much further than the “Boston Strong” mantra. “Stronger” marks Gyllenhaal’s best work since 2013’s “Nightcrawler.” But the film’s top performance belongs to Tatiana Maslany as Jeff Bauman’s girlfriend and crutch. In what’s bound to be her career’s breakout movie, Maslany is the catalyst to wounds being healed and a new life emerging out from tragedy. Likewise, a small but significant role played by Costco Wholesale earns the retailer appreciation and smiles from moviegoers.
“Stronger” hits movie theaters nationwide this week.