Movie review: Stronger

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of the second Boston Marathon bombing biopic. It’s Stronger.

IMDb summary: Stronger is the inspiring real-life story of Jeff Bauman, an ordinary man who captured the hearts of his city and the world to become a symbol of hope after surviving the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Just last year (or at the beginning of this year, depending on the location), Patriot’s Day premiered in theatres. It recounted the events of the 2013 Boston Bombing from the perspective of the law enforcement officers. Back then, I questioned the morality of the cinematic adaptation of such a recent event. Nevertheless, my questioning did not stop Hollywood from making a second biopic centered on the tragic terrorist attack. This time around, the event is portrayed from the viewpoint of a supporter (almost a passerby) who got injured in the attack.

Writing

Stronger was written by John Pollono (actor mostly but he has written some short films before), based on the biography of the same name by Jeff Bauman (portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal in the film) and Bret Witter. I thought that the writing for the picture was quite interesting. To being with, the set-up for the main character was really effective – in just three scenes (Costco, bar, and home), Jeff’s whole background (work, relationships, family) was established. Speaking of his family: their reaction to his injury (trying to almost benefit from it) was infuriating but, sadly, realistic. Having said that, his family, especially his mother, can’t really be blamed for being unequipped to deal with such a tragedy: nobody is ever prepared for such an incident, moreover, his mother seemed to have had her own personal issues and problems.

Bauman’s relationship with his on-and-off girlfriend was fascinating too. Just the idea that he usually did not show up for anything but the one time he showed up he got hurt was so unreal that it had to have been real (one cannot fictionalize coincidences like this one). The fact that the girlfriend felt to blame for the incident because he showed up for her was also hinted at in the film.

Although Stronger was a personal story of recovery, it also explored the society’s reaction to both the Boston bombing and its victims. The film portrayed the celebration of victims as well as their heroization – two developments that are so peculiar but undeniably real. I wish that the film would have explored PTSD a bit more broadly but, I guess, since Bauman himself was in denial about his state, if the film would have explored the issue more, Stronger would not have been Bauman’s authentic story anymore. What the movie did explore was the meaning of saving (how saving another saves oneself too) and it also touched upon the concepts of wholesomeness and masculinity very briefly.

 

Lastly, the film hinted at the idiotic ideas of conspiracy that surrounds global disasters like this one. It also had an overall nice message about staying strong in the face of a tragedy. Nevertheless, it would be much better if we didn’t need messages like that altogether, but, I suppose, the idea that terrorism might not exist one day is just pure wishful thinking on my part.

Directing

Stronger was directed by David Gordon Green, whose previous film was Our Brand Is Crisis (a fictionalized account of a real political election). I thought that he did a good job with Stronger. The pacing of the film was good for the most part, though, it started dragging slightly at the very end. The emotional core of the story was visualized very well. The scene at the hockey game was brilliant – it felt psychotic and full of anxiety – all the feelings that Bauman himself felt in that moment. The other sport-related scene – the final ceremonial pitch at the Red Sox’s game – acted as a nice conclusion to the character’s journey. Overall, it was very interesting to see how sporting events were/are such a big part of the identity of Boston and the Bostonians. I also appreciated the fact that Stronger focused a lot on the medical procedures and the practical difficulties that somebody with a disability encounters – becoming disabled doesn’t mean just losing a body part but losing one’s whole way of life too – and it was really great that Stronger emphasized that.

Acting

The whole film was mostly carried by three actors. Jake Gyllenhaal (Southpaw, Everest, Nocturnal Animals, Life) delivered an incredible physical and emotional performance as Jeff. Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany was also amazing as Erin, Jeff’s girlfriend: the scene with Jeff and Erin screaming at each other in the car was so emotional. Miranda Richardson also delivered a very grounded performance (one that would fit a social realism indie) as Jeff’s mother.

In short, Stronger was a deeply human story, brought to life by brilliant performances and solid directing.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Stronger trailer

Stronger_film_poster

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Movie review: Southpaw

Movie reviews

Good morning!

I’ve promised to post a review for Southpaw 2 days ago, but I am only posting it now for some reason. Better late than ever, right ? Anyway, let’s start talking about a film already.

Southpaw is the latest Antoine Fuqua’s film, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, and Rachel McAdams. It’s a sports drama distributed by The Weinstein Company. The chairmen of this company – Harvey Weinstein – is known for running very successful Oscar campaigns for the films his company distributes, so Southpaw is expected to get a few nominations as well. And it definitely deserves it! The only thing that might stop this film is its release date. Oscar season usually doesn’t start in summer, but Southpaw is trying to change the game. I hope it succeeds.

IMDb summary: Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Willis to help him get his life back on track after losing his wife in a tragic accident and his daughter to child protection services.

Story

The script for Southpaw has been written by Kurt Sutter. Sutter has worked as a writer, producer, and director on various TV shows (Sons of Anarchy being one of them), but this is his first time writing a screenplay for a motion picture. Southpaw is a story about a down-on-his-luck boxer Billy Hope, who, due to circumstances and his own hot temper and anger, loses everything he has, even, excuse the pun, hope to get back on his feet and onto a right path. I have never been a huge fan of boxing, I’ve never really understood the appeal of this sport, or of any martial arts and combat sport. As a result, I haven’t seen a lot of boxing movies, so Southpaw for me was an interesting, exciting and quite a fresh film. However, since I’m an athlete myself, I have seen a lot of movies about sport and all of them, including Southpaw, have the same cliches, like: finding a new coach who used to train one’s unbeatable opponent, getting the necessary motivation because of some random kid’s story, training not only for the title but to provide for one’s family and so forth. Having said that, even though the film is predictable and the biggest twist is spoiled in the trailer, Southpaw is still a great, but depressing story about a man’s fight for his existence, both in the ring and in the actual ‘real’ life.

Values

Southpaw underlines the importance of family a lot; it especially highlights the father-daughter relationship, which is always a winning theme for me, since my dad is my best friend. Furthermore, friendship and fake friends are also a theme that is touched upon in this movie. In addition, the corporate and commercial side of the sport is also discussed. Lastly, a theme, which is very important to all martial arts movies and real life boxers, of mixing the ring with real life is at the core of Southpaw. Interestingly, while a lot of people (including myself) might think that anger is the driving force in all combat sports, this movie tries to show how the actual technique of fighting, speed, and fast thinking are the skills that help one win the fight. Anger can only get you or others close to you killed or at least badly hurt, both in the ring and in day-to-day life.

This movie also has an interesting structure. The thing that sends Billy Hope’s life into a downwards spiral happens in the first 15 minutes and then the audience is asked to sit through 1.5 hours of slow, almost action-less redemption ark, which isn’t very redeeming at first, and only in the last 15 minutes Billy is actually able to get his life back on track. However, there are things and people that he is not able to get back and that will leave a mark on him for the rest of his life. Some consequences are permanent and that’s the sad true that all people have to deal with.

Directing

Southpaw is directed by Antoine Fuqua, who is probably best known to mainstream audiences for directing 2001’s Training Day, starring Denzel Washington and last year’s The Equalizer, also starring Denzel. I’ve seen both of these films but never have been a big fan of them. Personally, I was introduced to Fuqua in 2004 with the film King Arthur. That movie was one of my favorites during childhood and it still is now. The fight scene over a frozen lake is one of my favorite scenes in movies ever and also, that scene, together with Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers final battle scene, are the things that made me want to try my hand at archery! And now, almost 10 years later, it’s still my hobby. Anyway, sorry for going off track, we are here to talk about Southpaw. The fight scenes in that film are shot brilliantly, you feel like you are in the ring with the boxers and that you are actually the one fighting, The dark, brownish and grayish color palette also represent the mood of the film perfectly.

The next Fuqua’s film – the remake of 1960s Western – The Magnificent Seven – will be released next year and it will have a very esteemed cast. Denzel Washington once again will work with Fuqua after taking a 1-year break, fan favorite Chris Pratt and Boyhood’s Ethan Hawke will provide their services and even KingpinVincent D’Onofrio – will stop by.

Acting

Jake Gyllenhaal as Billy Hope. Gyllenhaal deserves much more credit and attention than he gets. He is an extremely versatile actor, both with his emotions and his body. Do you remember how he looked last year in Nightcrawler and how he looks now in Southpaw? I still don’t know why he didn’t get an Academy Awards nomination last year and I will be extremely pissed off if he doesn’t get one this year. I enjoyed Nightcrawler a lot – never has a film or a character in the film made me feel so uncomfortable. I also liked Jake’s performance in movies like 2007’s Zodiac and 2010’s comedy Love and Other Drugs. I really want to check out his earlier work – Donnie Darko and Brokeback Mountain – as well.

Rachel McAdams as Maureen Hope. Usually, when an actress creates an iconic role, it’s hard for said actress to break out of that preconceived notion and stereotype. But Rachel McAdams never had this problem. In 2004, she starred in not one, but two cult classics – Mean Girls and The Notebook. Sadly, she hasn’t been able to recreate that year’s success with a wide variety of films – dramas, comedies and action flicks, but 2015 might be the year. Although her role is small and she isn’t on screen much, she kills it. I loved her character because Maureen Hope was the boss of the family and a strong female character that all movies are trying to create nowadays, but only a few of them actually succeed at doing so.

Oona Laurence as Leila Hope was amazing. Definitely, a young talent to watch. She is already pretty well know in a theater circuit for originating the role of Matilda Wormwood in Matilda on Broadway and for being nominated for a Grammy with the cast of Matilda for a soundtrack of that musical. Moreover, Oona has 7 movies (both short and feature-length) coming out this year and she is only 13 years old! Do you feel like you haven’t done anything with your life? Because I certainly am.

Forest Whitaker as Titus Wills was also a great addition to the cast. His character was believable and realistic as well as a great mentor for Billy Hope. The look of the character was also interesting and unique. I am not really familiar with Whitaker’s other films, although I enjoyed his performance in The Butler.

Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson as Jordan Mains was also surprisingly good. I always expect singers-turned-actors to be quite terrible, but Jackson has quite a broad film career, in addition to being a rapper. His look was also on point – those suits were amazing.

Miguel Gomez as Miguel “Magic” Escobar played the opponent of Billy Hope and was okay. His character was the only one, who, at times, seemed like a cartoon version of himself, meaning he was too over the top.

Rita Ora as Maria Escobar. Ora had a small cameo in the film and was really good in it. Previously, she had a small cameo in Furious 6: Rita met Vin Diesel at some event and they just came up with a role for her on a spot. Since then, Ora has been trying to get into Hollywood, but I don’t think she chose a great franchise as a starting point. I, of course, mean the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey, where she plays Grey’s sister. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see, what comes out of it.

To sum up, I enjoyed Southpaw immensely and I have never been a fan of boxing. The movie’s plot was full of sport’s movie’s cliches, but amazing directing from Fuqua and strong performances from the whole cast, especially Jake Gyllenhaal, made up for it. I highly advise you to see this film, because I believe it will resurface when the Awards season kicks in.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Southpaw trailer

Southpaw_poster