An American real-life drama that plays like a companion piece to Breathe.


The politics of compassion: Jake Gyllenhaal


This is a film about Jeff Bauman who lost both legs when bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon in 2013. That fact might lead some to assume that Stronger covers much the same ground as Patriots Day released last February. However that film was about the tracking down of the culprits whereas Stronger, based on the book by Bauman and Bret Witter, puts the focus on Bauman's strength in coming to terms with what had happened to him. In this he was greatly aided by the devotion of his girlfriend, Erin Hurley, and in celebrating Bauman's courage and determination Stronger is much closer to the recent Breathe than it is to Patriots Day, even if the tone of Stronger is as markedly American as that of Breathe is British.


Two things contribute hugely to the impact of his film. One is the direction of David Gordon Green, which has the important merit of keeping the drama sufficiently on the move for the film to seem shorter than its 119 minutes. But the biggest bonus comes from the actors. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Bauman and brings an inner conviction to the role that has earned him talk of an Oscar nomination. But, good as he is, his co-stars are hardly less striking: Tatiana Maslany brings a real freshness to the role of Erin, an individuality far removed from the standard Hollywood beauty, while Miranda Richardson, cast against type, has her best   role for years as Patty Bauman. Patty is Jeff's mother who shows greater relish then her son for the role of celebrity which his personal heroism has brought to him. Extra drama comes from the fact that Patty is frequently at odds with Erin who is becoming increasingly important in her son's life.


For all these qualities, as scripted by John Pollano, Stronger is less than a wholly satisfactory film. At times one wonders just how close to the facts it is. In the film issues that arise between Jeff and Erin are rather too neatly resolved through comments made by Carlos Arredondo (Carlos Sanz), the man who was beside Bauman at the Marathon, and the American tone leads to a stranger's stirring speech about Bauman and what he has come to stand for, an endorsement that would win Donald Trump's approval. As with Breathe, the realisation that suffering however heroic is not always a draw at the box-office has encouraged the makers of Stronger to put considerable positive emphasis on the tale as a love story. But then, as some viewers will know, it conceals later developments to provide a happy ending all round. The special effects that can give us images of a legless Gyllenhaal are remarkable, but, old as it is, the British film about air-ace Douglas Bader, Reach for the Sky (1956), probably still leads the way in being the top box-office hit centred on a man great enough to overcome the most severe of handicaps.




Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Richard Lane Jr, Nate Richman, Lenny Clarke, Patty O'Neil, Frankie Shaw, Clancy Brown, Kate Fitzgerald, Carlos Sanz, James LeBlanc.


Dir David Gordon Green, Pro Jake Gyllenhaal, David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman, Michael Litvak and Scott Silver, Screenplay John Pollono, from the book by Jeff Bauman and Bret Witter, Ph Sean Bobbitt, Pro Des Stephen H. Carter, Ed Dylan Tichenor, Music Michael Brook, Costumes Leah Katznelson and Kim Wilcox.


Bold Films/Lionsgate/Mandeville Films/Nine Stories Productions-Lionsgate.
119 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 8 December 2017. Cert. 15.