Stronger (2017). Film review of the Boston Marathon bomb drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal

image still stronger film gyllenhaal maslany

Film review, by Jason Day, of the movie Stronger about a man who loses his legs after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, facing a difficulty and emotional journey to recuperation. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal.


star rating 3 out of 5 worth watching


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Based on a real-life story, Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a typical young working class lad, stuck in a low-pay supermarket job, going to the pub with his heavy drinking family and friends and giving his long-suffering, on-off, middle class girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany) the run around.

As a ruse to get back together with her after another breakup, he finally shows up to something she is doing – running in the 2013 Boston Marathon. After a terrorist plants a bomb there, spectators die and Jeff loses both his legs. An already recalcitrant man becomes increasingly difficult to live with.

Review, by Jason Dayimage poster stronger film

Why does cinema continually feel the need to push films on me that have me crying until I faint with dehydration?!

I’ve written previously about moviedom’s preference for full-on, post-melodrama cinema that pummels your emotional buttons to get your hanky sodden, so perhaps I’ve developed into a glutton for punishment by still meandering to the multiplex to see such fare.

Stronger slips neatly into this sub-genre but it does try to buck the trend with some eye-wateringly honest, gallows humour about Bauman’s condition.

His family and friends, faced with the seemingly insurmountable task of supporting a previously active young man who is made suddenly and irreversibly disabled, treat his situation in the only way working class people know how – with some stinging but well-meaning barbs to deflect the stress they are obviously undergoing.

And we get full-on digs throughout the movie, the cast delivering them with stunning deprecation and the audience whole-heartedly enjoying:

  • “Man…your fucking legs are gone!”
  • “I’m Lt. Dan!” (referring to Gary Sinise’s likewise disabled character in Forrest Gump (1994)
  • “You’re sitting on my legs (Jeff says to Erin as she settles herself on his hospital bed, where his lower limbs would have been)

Leter in the film, Jeff’s well-meaning but celeb-obsessed mom Patti (Miranda Richardson), later more concerned with having her idol Oprah Winfrey interviewing him than his own need for solitude and reflection, hears him groaning in his bedroom. She mistakenly believes he is masturbating to relieve his frustrations but he has, in fact, fallen out of the bed. A

As the film progresses, we see her need for alcohol and to celebrate her son’s existence take precedence over more fundamental needs, such as his accessibility to a toilet and being near the ground floor.

Stronger has as blunt and honest a humour as you can get. It seems uncomfortable, but it helps audiences to deal with the serious issues shown them, just as the people in real-life used humour to cope in the moment.

Perhaps this underlines one of the themes of the film; that people who have not been disabled by such atrocities have such trouble dealing with the people injured they need some form of coping mechanism, irrespective of the impact this have on the individual in question.

Bauman is lumped, without his consent, with the label of ‘Boston Strong’, inadvertently forced  by his nearest and dearest to shoulder the emotional needs of his home city, state, country and then world on his shoulders.

The out of focus shot of Bauman’s leg stumps as the first set of bandages are removed makes the audience feel that as Bauman couldn’t stand seeing his disability, we can’t.

Is this views paternalistic on Green’s part, or protectionist?

I felt it was a mixture of both, as the topic covered is A* budget TV movie of the week fare. Harsh, I know, but I talk from the position of a film critic and in broader terms, we’ve seen this triumph-against-adversity story umpteen times before and Stronger adds nothing more apart from a dark laugh count.

That said, Gyllenhaal is good value. Flawed, aggravating, aggressive, his Jeff Bauman is an accomplished movie performance.

Maslany is well placed as his questioning, galvanising love interest but, despite my personal admiration for her other TV and movie roles, Brit-actress Richardson is miscast.

She puts herself out here, a role that cries out for someone who can throughly grasp not only the inimitable, croaking, accent, but also the slovenly, alcoholic mother figure, the deluded soul she is portraying.

I kept asking where the hell is Cathy Moriarty?

And where, for that matter, is Marty Scorsese to add proper grit and depth to this tale?

For more, see the trailer on the official website.

Cast & credits

Director: David Gordon Green. 1hr 59mins. Bold Films/Lionsgate/Mandeville/Nine Stories Productions. (15)

Producer: Jake Gyllenhaal, David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman, Michel Litvak, Scott Silver.
Writer: John Pollono.
Camera: Sean Bobbitt.
Music: Michael Brook.
Sets: Stephen H. Carter.

Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Richard Lane Jr., Nate Richman, Lenny Clarke, Patty O’Neill, Clancy Brown, Kate Fitzgerald.


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