Though I have not seen all of his films, I have been a fan of director David Gordon Green. Before he gave such comedies like Pineapple Express (2008), Your Highness (2011), and The Sitter (also 2011), he gave much more dramatic works such as George Washington (his debut in 2000), All the Real Girls (2003), and the highly underrated Snow Angels (2007). Now he tackles the true story of Jeff Bauman in Stronger, proving again he is a director that is rather unsung.
The story is there in the previews. Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an everyday man of Boston. He works at Costco, lives with his mom Patty, and is a hardcore fan of the Bruins and Red Sox. He has been in and out of a relationship with Erin (Tatiana Maslany from the BBC show Orphan Black). He decides to cheer her on at the 2013 Boston Marathon. Of course, tragedy strikes and the two bombs go off. Jeff survives, but loses his legs.
Green is a director who knows the importance of supporting characters, and you get the clear sense of family in Jeff’s life (though I admit I am still confused how they are all related). We get some actors such as Nate Richman, Richard Lane Jr., and that great character actor Clancy Brown, to name a few. The stand out, however, is Miranda Richardson as his mom. She is given scenes that she plays with power and ease, and are likely to be remembered when the talks of Oscar begin in the next month or so.
The same can also be said of Maslany and Gyllenhaal. I doubt I can keep calling Jake Gyllenhaal an underrated actor, because he has given solid performance after solid performance in nearly all of his movies (even if it is a bit over the top, like in this year’s Okja). Maslany is also rather effective as his girlfriend (she herself is not injured, but notices Jeff in the picture of the aftermath). She is clearly what Jeff tries to lean on for support (for the most part), but also is not just playing a thankless woman role. The chemistry between the two is authentic and palpable.
Parents, the movie is R, and for good reason. David Gordon Green does not shy away from the violence and graphic details (though it is not as bad I guessed it would be). There is a lot of swearing, and one sex scene with partial female nudity that lasts about a minute. High School and above.
Though the movie does have some parts that drag, Stronger is still a movie with backbone and grit. I am not from Boston, but I can’t imagine any native of that great city not wanting to see this movie.
Overall: Four Stars ****