Patriots Day, which hit local theaters in December 2016 and stars Mark Wahlberg, attempts to capture every detail of the most frenetic week in Boston’s history in a little more than two hours. Stronger, on the other hand, takes its time to chronicle bombing survivor and Chelmsford native Jeff Bauman’s long, often difficult path to recovery.
Both were shot in and around Boston at around the same time, with Patriots Day (controversially) taking over neighborhood blocks with SWAT vehicles and police cars to recreate the tension-filled manhunt of April 2013, and Stronger recreating Bauman’s on-field appearances at Fenway Park and TD Garden. However, that might be where similarities between the two films end.
“I just wanted to make a good love story,” said Stronger director David Gordon Green known mostly for indie curiosities (George Washington, Prince Avalanche) and stoner comedies (Pineapple Express, Your Highness). “Whether it made the headlines or not, in your life, you have definitely struggled, if not physically, then emotionally. This movie is here to remind us, however weird we are, we’re all normal.”
Stronger plumbs dark territory, not only in showing the aftermath of the bombings. In the movie, audiences see Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his then-girlfriend, Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany), clash repeatedly as Bauman skips rehab sessions and gets drunk with his friends and family. (Bauman and Hurley later married and had a daughter but are now separated.)
“It’s a very human story, and it has flawed characters, so it doesn’t glamorize anything,” Maslany said. “It doesn’t make anyone into a hero. In fact, it dismantles that idea in the first place.”
Screenwriter John Pollono, who adapted the script based on a book written by Bauman and Bret Witter, said he had to be “unflinching” to make this film. A Londonderry, New Hampshire, native, Pollono grew up only 30 minutes from the Baumans’ home in Chelmsford. He said he embedded himself with the family, eager to learn what makes them tick.
“It’s amazing this movie got made the way it did, where we dug deeper and deeper to get to an essential truth,” Pollono said. “My script pulls no punches, and nobody ever asked for a punch to be pulled.”
Bauman admitted that it was difficult to watch some of his lowest points and worst traits on the big screen, but that he respected the film’s honesty.
“It’s tough to see it, but it’s really cool at the same time,” Bauman said. “It’s an honor to be portrayed by Jake. Jake poured so much effort into it, and not just Jake — David Gordon Green, [producer] Todd Lieberman, everybody involved. It’s a sign of respect and honor.”
Gyllenhaal, who has struck up a friendship with Bauman over the past few years through the film, said he feels Bauman’s story is of paramount importance.
“The way that this city was moved by Jeff’s strength, other cities and other people around the world need the strength that he gave this city,” Gyllenhaal said. “That is essential, and I believe in that.”
Sharing that story — Bauman’s — and “not necessarily” chronicling the marathon bombings, was always Stronger‘s objective, Pollono said.
“Jeff’s story needs to be told, and it needs to be told now,” he said. “It’s difficult to open those wounds if you’re from the area, but it’s incredibly healing to share the story. I think this movie, because it’s told so raw and so truthfully, I think it will affect a lot of people. There’s a price you pay when having to go to an uncomfortable place, but I think it’s worth it.”
See photos from Stronger‘s red-carpet premiere at Spaulding: