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: Churchill

Movie reviews

Hello!

Churchill is the first of the two biographical dramas of 2017 about ‘the greatest Briton of all time’ Winston Churchill (or the second of the three if we count his appearance on Netflix’s The Crown). Let’s see how good it is!

IMDb summary: 96 hours before the World War II invasion of Normandy, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill struggles with his severe reservations with Operation Overlord and his increasingly marginalized role in the war effort.

While The Crown mostly touched upon Churchill’s second term in the office (1951-55), both biopics of this year are looking at his first term as the Prime Miniter. The second drama that’s coming around Christmas – The Darkest Hour – will look at the beginning of that term and the start of WW2 (1940-41), while Churchill explored the closing months of the said war and the D-day preparations (1944).

Writing

Churchill’s script was written by a British historian and author Alex von Tunzelmann, thus, all (or at least the majority of) historical facts in the screenplay were most likely true to life, while the film-writing specific mistakes could be explained by a lack of experience in writing scripts (she has worked on a historical TV series before but only a little bit).

The biggest flaw in the writing for Churchill, to my mind, was the fact that a plethora of brilliant ideas were introduced or hinted at but never fully explored. I loved the nods to the strained UK/US relationship (like a parent/child one or an old married couple type of one) and the brief showcasing of the Churchill/King George VI relationship that was a complex combo of professionalism and friendship. Churchill’s relationship with his wife was also on display – she was his reality check as well as the biggest supporter – and I wanted to see more of their confrontations and reconciliations.

The writing for the character of Churchill tried being complex but ended up confused. And yet, it still managed to surprise me. For one, I’ve never thought of Churchill as the leader of the ‘everyman’, who thought about the war in terms of the lives lost. I have also seen him as a very conservative leader, while this film depicted him as kinda a rebel in the eyes of the other war generals. This type of rebellious imagining also clashed with the other side of his persona – the fact that he was always seen as too old or living in the past (here the experience versus the inability to move forward debate comes up). His public vs private sides were also touched upon in the movie but were never distinguished well enough one from the other. Lastly, this film suggested that Churchill felt underappreciated for his efforts, which kinda goes against the ideas of today, where he is hailed as ‘The greatest Briton’ and statues of him are to be found in every major city in the UK (and on every corner in London, basically).

While I usually appreciate ambiguities as well as opposing ideas being presented in the motion picture, this time around, I felt that Churchill was just grasping all over the place and not only didn’t have a clear final message but didn’t even have an initial outline of what it wanted to achieve. It’s really a shame because a lot of ideas that the film introduced were ripe for exploration but were either wasted or wrongly mixed with other creative concepts.

Directing 

An Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky directed Churchill and did an okay job. I loved the opening images of the film – the signature hat in the bloody water – and thought that they were really cinematic. However, all of the following visuals really lacked grandness and felt like they belonged in a BBC TV movie or a miniseries. The lack of cinematic visuals could partially be explained by the fact that the movie’s script was very personal, more fitting to a long format analysis on the small screen. Speaking about longness, while the film itself was just around 100 minutes long and quite slowly paced, it, sadly, wasn’t always engaging to justify the slowness of the plot.

Acting

The best part of the whole film was its cast. Both Brian Cox and Miranda Richardson delivered transformational performances as Winston and Clementine Churchill. Cox brought vulnerability as well as a stubbornness to the performance, while Richardson was the perfect embodiment of the female strength.

Ella Purnell played Churchill’s secretary Helen Garret. Her role in the film really reminded me of another Churchill’s secretary character of Venetia Scott, played by Kate Phillips in The Crown. King George VI was played by James Purefoy. His character is probably one of the most recognizable movie characters of the British monarchy because of the slight stutter, explored in The King’s Speech.

In short, Churchill was an okay biopic that deserved a clearer and more concise writing and should have had more cinematic qualities in its visuals.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Churchill trailer

Churchill_(film)