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.
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.
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.
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.
Trailer: Stronger trailer