In the wake of horrifying events, like the utterly appaling shooting in Las Vegas on Sunday, the nation mourns its losses, hopes for a better future, and finds heroes in those who were there to help and those who survived. It’s been four years since the Boston Marathon bombings that unified the city and country after two explosives went off killing three and injuring hundreds more. Along with Patriot’s Day, it appears the embargo is off to make movies on this devastating event.
Thankfully, David Gordon Green’s Stronger has a lot to say offer on the subject, rather than trying to capitalize on a major event for the sake of entertainment, as we follow survivor Jeff Baumon on his journey to recovery and the acceptance of his status of hero, even if all he did was survive.
It all starts with Erin (Tatiana Maslany) who has thrice turned down Jeff (Jake Gyllenhaal). Even though he has been rejected by her, Jeff still makes an effort to show up and support her at the race. As he’s standing at the finish line, the bombs go off and obliterate much of his legs, forcing doctors to amputate both below the knee.
Quick with jokes upon waking up from recovery, Jeff’s journey quickly becomes physically and emotionally challenging. Living in a cramped apartment with an alcoholic mother (Miranda Richardson) who not only is insufficient at caring for him, but also selfish as she pushes him into the spotlight without considering his feelings, causes friction between them and Erin who becomes more or less Jake’s nurse and girlfriend.
It’s hard to blame Jeff. You can’t really tell someone who lost both of their legs in a terrorist attack to grow up and be mature, but at the same time he uses that as a way to not face reality and improve his situation. His reluctance and stubbornness send him spiraling down a road that nobody can help him on. If anything, this movie is more about his acceptance of being a “Hero,” rather than him adjusting to not having legs.
Gyllenhaal and Maslany work wonderfully together. Despite criticisms for the role of Jeff, since he’s not actually an amputee, Gyllenhaal portrays him with a reserved pain that for most of the movie, you wonder if he’s ever going to burst. Maslany also delivers a stellar performance as a girl who just got roped into the life of Jeff even if she didn’t want or mean to. It’s such a difficult situation to imagine yourself in, and Maslany makes us feel the conflicting feelings of guilt, reluctance, and love.
Like Jeff’s struggles to recover and face his new life without legs, Stronger can be challenging. It is populated by people in situations they never imagined themselves being in for reasons that they didn’t ask for. But it is anchored by two seriously strong performances that sweep you up in emotion as the two leads face new realities together and move forward to find hope and a better future, both of which we all desperately need right now.