One thing that Stronger does well is avoiding becoming the typically patriotic propaganda following a tragic event. There’s no doubting that Boston as a city and the United States as a nation came together after the devastating bombings in the 2013 Boston marathon. But far too many movies based on tragic real-life events are far too elaborate and nationalistic – the obvious examples being American Sniper and Patriots Day.
Where Stronger thrives is having the ability to look past the collective and focusing on a quite inspiring individual, Jeff Bauman, who suffered life changing injuries as a result of the incident.
The movie follows the memoirs of Bauman, a blue-collar everyday man who loses the bottom half of his legs following the bombings, and the resulting struggles he faces when rebuilding his life. The working-class Bauman must deal with his new hero-like status, not helped by his overpowering mother, Patty (Miranda Richardson) and his on and off relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Erin (Tatiana Maslany).
Stronger is almost the perfect movie for Gyllenhaal right now – the everyday, working-class character facing tragedy gives plenty for him to work with a remind us of what a brilliant actor he has become. And as we enter award season, his name is likely to be mentioned for his big-eyed, turmoil-fueled performance.
The acting is the best aspect of the movie, which won’t last too long in the memory. But there should also be a special mention for Miranda Richardson and Tatiana Maslany. Richardson, playing Jeff’s heavy-drinking mother who gets caught up in the hero status of her son, brings a lot of life to a tough, difficult character whilst Maslany plays the despairing ex-girlfriend who faces just as much struggle negotiating a strenuous relationship with Jeff.
Stronger should be commended for not milking the political aspect of the attack and instead focusing more on the aftermath of an individual and his struggles, whereas similar films insist on waving the red, white and blue. David Gordon-Green’s movie is a refreshing take on a real-life tragedy with strong performances and portrayed well enough.