‘Stronger’ is a candid look at trauma and its fallout, critics say

Jake Gyllenhaal in the 2017 film STRONGER, directed by David Gordon Green. 
Photo credit: Scott Garfield / Courtesy of Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions
Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff Bauman in the 2017 film 'Stronger.' –Scott Garfield / Courtesy of Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions

In Stronger, Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Jeff Bauman, a Boston Marathon bombing survivor who lost his legs during the April 2013 attack. The film chronicles the Chelmsford native’s experience as he copes with his new disability and is suddenly thrust into the spotlight.  

The David Gordon Green-directed film, which hosted a premiere at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, where Bauman was treated, opened to the public on Friday.

Variety’s Andrew Barker remarked that even though there are reasons to be wary of it, Stronger is a movie that “just flat-out work[s].”

It’s a film about the Boston Marathon bombing that comes less than a year after Peter Berg’s “Patriots Day,” and heir to a long line of sometimes manipulative fact-based films that have seized on a moment of national tragedy to tell an inspirational tale. But then, “Stronger” is an inspirational tale that acknowledges easy inspirational tales are often nonsense. As he follows Jeff from the moment a terrorist bomb changes his life through his long, difficult rehabilitation, Green looks for small but meaningful ways to complicate and deepen the well-trod story he’s telling, and by the end, those complications help the film earn its uplift.

 

The Hollywood Reporter‘s Deborah Young offered three words as the film’s bottom line: “solid, straightforward and touching.”

Perhaps the most striking thing about David Gordon Green’s Stronger is how it refuses to turn its subject into a hero or even a small-time symbol of courage, as one might legitimately expect of a survivor story, even while the world is clamoring to put him on a pedestal.

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In his four-star review for The Guardian, Benjamin Lee called Gyllenhaal’s performance “awards-worthy” and deemed Green a “perfect fit” as director.

There’s an effective sense of small-scale intimacy throughout, Green striving for authenticity within the delicate dynamic of Jeff and his loved ones rather than attempting to tell the entire story that surrounds them. … It’s a refreshingly unconventional style that also allows Gyllenhaal the opportunity to truly impress. Another actor could have struggled with such naked camera work, the mechanics of their work seeming, well, mechanical, but Gyllenhaal is effortlessly good here.

 

The Boston Herald’s James Verniere wrote that Gyllenhaal gave a “moving portrait” of Bauman and praised Tatiana Maslany as Bauman’s on-again-off-again girlfriend, Erin Hurley.

No one who lived in Boston when the 2013 marathon bombings occurred can fail to be moved, if not even emotionally wrecked, by “Stronger,” a film based on the best-selling memoirs of Chelmsford’s Jeff Bauman. … Gyllenhaal is terrific, but Maslany…is a revelation.

 

While The Boston Globe’s Ty Burr acknowledged John Pollono’s effective screenplay and both Maslany and Gyllenhaal’s performances in his three-star review, he questioned the portrayal of Bauman’s family.

By using Bauman’s relatives to personify the tension and by loading that family with every beeah-swilling, Sawx-loving, F-bomb dropping ‘yo, bro’ cliché in the book, director David Gordon Green overplays his hand. … We’re much more than the sum of our accents and team jerseys in Massachusetts, even as filmmakers from away, seeking narrative shortcuts, serve up our most reductive parts and call it authenticity. Two decades ago, with “Good Will Hunting,” this seemed like a novelty. In “Stronger,” it plays as self-parody.

 

Watch the trailer for Stronger:

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