Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is just any other ordinary guy at the Boston Marathon, waiting at the finish line to surprise his on-off-again girlfriend, Erin (Tatiana Maslany). Then suddenly, a bomb explodes and Jeff is left stunned and shook, but without two of his legs. It’s a lifestyle that he’s going to have get used to, but with his friends, family, and most of all, Erin, by his side, what could go wrong?
On the surface, yes, Stronger is a pretty conventional tale of strength and power overcoming adversity, but it’s also much deeper than that. Actually, not really, but because it’s a true story, because the story itself isn’t even all that hokey, and above all else, the performances are so damn good, it’s hard to really be upset by its TV-movie-of-the-week look and feel. After all, it’s a TV-movie-of-the-week with nudity, cursing, and hacked-off limbs, so it’s not all that safe and sound, right?
As per usual with director David Gordon Green, he takes on a bit of material that we don’t really expect from him, but somehow, it still works. Green doesn’t have to do a whole lot of flash and bang behind the camera to really make this material pop-off, but by the same token, he can’t help it; there are plenty of scenes that put us inside the dazed and frazzled mind of Bauman that not only have us feel for the guy more than we already do, but also realize that this notion of lionizing someone who literally just lost two of their legs, is almost insane. He represents a sense of hope and heart in this sick, sad, and tragic world, but he’s also just a normal, everyday guy who, if anything, wants to be left alone.
If anything, Stronger tickles with that notion, then unfortunately, falls back.
Why? I’m not sure and it’s a tad disappointing. Green, while he’s known for his slip-ups as of late, can truly get beneath the surface with these heartfelt, simple and rather small character-dramas, but here, he doesn’t go nearly as far down as he should. There’s a sense that he’s digging at something harder and more effective, but ultimately, he just stays put, allowing the actors to do the material and make it work themselves.
Normally, that would be a problem, but it’s not because Gyllenhaal and Maslany are so good here and really make everything work. Gyllenhaal, as usual, takes a role that could have been simplistic and almost dull, but allows us to understand and truly see this guy for what he is: A normal, everyday guy, trying to get by. There’s a true heart and feeling to this person who, in real life, may be more interesting than he comes off in the film, but Gyllenhaal also allows us to see this guy as something of a sad-sack, just barely getting by in life, and then, miraculously, gets it all together, when he loses both of his legs. It’s an inspirational story in the sense that it’s about overcoming obstacles, but it’s also an ironic tale, too, so once again, there’s something deeper, but not really.
Anyway, Maslany is amazing, too, and even though it’s a little disappointing to see her not play five or six different characters, she’s still amazing as Erin Hurley here. She’s the strong-willed and smart woman who definitely loves Jeff, but also realizes just how much of a pain he can be, and especially in this situation. It’s a role that could have easily been annoying and almost unlikable, but Maslany plays her like a real person, who actually cares and loves her man, while also realizing that he can be a bit of an ass.
Like all men, really.
Consensus: Stronger is a simple and formulaic inspirational tale, but with solid performances and a firm focus on the real-life people themselves, it plays better than it should.
7.5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions