Writing about films like “Stronger,” which tells the true story of a man injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, is one of the toughest things to do. A less than positive review should in no way be taken as a knock on the biopic’s subject but in staying critically objective to the merits of the film versus the story, this one is a boring mess.
Jake Gyllenhaal is Jeff Bauman, a Boston man who was standing so close to the bombers that not only did he lose both of his legs, he was able to offer an eyewitness account of the culprits to the FBI from his hospital bed.
The screenplay is based on Bauman’s bestselling book and what’s interesting about this one is that instead of presenting a historical rehashing of the events of the bombing, director David Gordon Green instead chooses to focus on the aftermath and recovery as Jeff and his lovingly dysfunctional family cope with his life-changing injuries and new world reality. I appreciate the fresh new angle of this biopic; I just wish it wasn’t so overly long and I wish it didn’t move so slowly.
The entire cast puts in effective performances, from Tatiana Maslany as guilt-ridden and put upon girlfriend Erin, as well as Gyllenhall himself, an actor who is making a real name for himself by stepping into darker roles of tortured antiheros. It’s psychologically disturbing to watch as Jeff suffers silently with severe PTSD yet still approaches his new disability with a positive attitude.
Even better at conveying a genuine realism is the supporting cast (including Miranda Richardson, Lenny Clarke, and Nate Richman) who play Bauman’s family, a joking, outspoken, swearing group of Bostonians. They may be mild caricatures but they’re still raw and authentic, at times making me feel as though this was an actual documentary.
Jeff isn’t likeable nor that particularly interesting, and his story isn’t inspirational. That’s what makes this a strange subject for a biopic. I’m unsure what I’m supposed to be feeling after watching this movie, but it sure ain’t inspiration.
Many have claimed the film manages to avoid the clichéd platitudes that permeate hero stories such as this, but that’s an untruth. All the usual “rah rah” tearjerker elements are present, from a tearful thank you from a vet to a “surprise” pregnancy. It’s far better than a television movie of the week, but it’s no game changer in the world of cinematic biopics.