Review: Stronger

Tatina Maslany and Jake Gyllenhaal in Stronger

Stronger is the story of Jeff Bauman, the man who lost both legs in the Boston Marathon bombing and became a hero to the entire country.

With a powerful performance from Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff Bauman, the film is an inspiring look at the struggle to come back after a catastrophe that destroyed Jeff’s life and impacted the lives of the people around him.

At the beginning of the film we see Jeff as a loser. He works roasting chickens in Costco and makes up excuses to get out of work so he can get drunk in a sports bar and watch games. On the day of the Boston Marathon, he was where he promised to be for once. He was standing at the finish line, waiting for his ex girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany) to finish her run. He hoped that if he showed up, she would take him back. This was the 3rd time they’d broken up, so he had reason to think he could win her back.

A man brushed against him and seconds later the bomb went off. Jeff was photographed being helped at the scene by a man in a cowboy hat, Carlos (Carlos Sanz). This photo was used in all the media.

When Jeff woke up he was in the hospital and both legs were gone. He told the FBI he’d seen the bomber and helped identify him. Between the photo seen everywhere and identifying the bomber, Jeff was declared a hero and the media swarm began.

Jeff’s mother Patty (Miranda Richardson) and his noisy argumentative family were happy to call him a hero. They loved the fame it brought him. But Patty was often too drunk to make sure Jeff made it to his physical therapy appointments, and he wasn’t making progress.

Jake Gyllenhaal is superb as the miserable, defeated Jeff. He clearly shows the struggles he faced to do the simplest things: take a shower, go to the bathroom, get up the stairs, stand on his new prosthetic legs.

Tatiana Maslany is also superb. She gave up her job and moved into the tiny apartment shared by Jeff and his mother. She did everything for Jeff, to the point of exhaustion. She monitored his meds, she got him to therapy. She put up with Patty, which wasn’t easy. And she got pregnant.

Emotions run high with such life-changing challenges. There was a spectacular argument between Jeff and Erin and another between Erin and Patty. The acting from everyone was 100% convincing.

As is often the case when someone is faced with a challenge like the one Jeff faced, giving up looks so much simpler and easier than doing the work of recovery. Erin is dealing with a drunk, ineffectual man who won’t commit to his own healing. She walks away again.

Jeff finally agreed to meet with Carlos, the man in the cowboy hat. As they talked, things finally clicked for Jeff. Or maybe it was the rock bottom of Erin leaving. Or maybe it was his impending fatherhood. He decided to live. He decided to do the work.

Jeff practiced with his new legs, but was still in the wheelchair most of the time. He threw the first pitch at a Red Sox game. Afterwards he was swamped with people who wanted to tell him their stories, thank him for not giving up, for inspiring them. It’s the most moving scene in the film, and Stronger is full of moving scenes.

In the last moments, we see Jeff walk awkwardly on new legs to meet Erin in a cafe.

As the credits roll, we see photos of the real Jeff and Erin welcoming their baby into the world. Erin ran again to complete the Boston Marathon and Jeff was there waiting on his prosthetic legs. Since then Jeff wrote the book on which this movie is based.

David Gordon Green directed Stronger. If true stories about overcoming great odds are a favorite, this movie is will inspire you.

Here’s the trailer.

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