The Boston Marathon Bombing of 2013 was an incredibly impactful moment for many Americans. The stories revolving around the tragedy flitted through social media for months, one of them being that of a man named Carlos helping a wounded man named Jeff, who had lost both his legs in the blast. Last year we got the investigative portion of the bombings with Patriots Day, this year we got the victim’s side of the calamity with Stronger.
Stronger is the story of the afore mentioned Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal), who lost his legs in the blast of the marathon. The story mainly recounts Jeff’s journey through rehab and through an unwanted celebrity, as he becomes a symbol of perseverance. The two main characters in the story are Jeff and his girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany), who ran the marathon and who stuck with Jeff through his hard recuperation.
The film mainly shines in its beginning moments, director David Gordon Green captures Jeff’s life before the marathon in a brief, but effective way. The immediate aftermath in the hospital is also incredibly well encapsulated, with the daze and breathlessness felt through the audience.
However, as the film rolls on, the story begins to drag, the novelty wears off and we start to see characters not as suffering heroes, but as insufferable children. The PTSD and hardships of adapting to a new life are portrayed, but some of the crucial scenes are sloppy. There are sentimental moments, but much less than the film actually intended there to be. Then there was the problem of Erin, Jeff’s girlfriend who is a complete saint in the film, but her entire character is incredibly underwritten.
But thankfully most of these hardships are smoothed over by the two incredible lead performances. Gyllenhaal, once again proves that he is one of the greatest actors working today, and we can never get enough of him. And Maslany is one of the most underrated actresses of today; her work on the BBC show Orphan Black went largely unnoticed until the final seasons, and she takes the role of Erin in Stronger and makes her one of the most compelling and heroic characters of the film, almost to the height of Jeff’s hardship, if not more.
I also couldn’t help thinking about the man who rescued Jeff, Carlos, and his story. Carlos had been at the marathon finishing line handing out American flags in honor of his two sons that had died a while back. One of them had been killed in the Middle East with the US Army, and the other one had been stricken with grief and taken his own life. Going through such hardships, and being able to go towards detonated explosive to save a life, was something I thought was much more worthy to be put on screen. Unfortunately, Carlos is Hispanic, and Hollywood is simply not ready to make a patriotic film with a Hispanic lead yet.
So in the end Stronger is an enjoyable recounting of a victim’s journey to get his life back. But there are a few missteps and elongations that the creative team stumbles on. Thankfully, the two titan actors hired, turn this possible bland movie, into a rewarding viewing.