Film of the Day (12/29/18): Stronger

 

Written By John Pollono
Directed By David Gordon Green

This is the kind of story that could have easily devolved into overly melodramatic territory or a breathing Hallmark card if handled improperly. Thankfully, neither of those things happened, as the collaboration between Pollono, Green, Gyllenhaal and real-life subject Jeff Bauman comes together beautifully to tell a heartfelt story of having the courage to overcome your shortcomings. It isn’t afraid to get dark, as it becomes a rare study of PTSD without war involved, but has plenty of inspiration to go around. Jake Gyllenhaal is amazing, once again, as he balances strength with vulnerability and really gives off the sense that he is trying to do the real Jeff Bauman justice. The script, with support from the cast including people like Lenny Clarke and real people from Boston balanced with trained actors, injects the story with the right amount of humor to occasionally let off some of the tension while feeling very authentic. Tatiana Maslany, who I admit to being unfamiliar with, gives a wonderful turn as Jeff’s girlfriend Erin, with an arc that goes from feeling guilty over Jeff’s injury to forcing him to grow up to embracing him wholeheartedly. Whether or not she had anything to do with Jeff giving his book that title, Erin is stronger than he believes himself to be and makes him stronger by standing behind him. The two of them face this challenge together, and Maslany and Gyllenhaal bring them to life on screen in a powerful way and infuse their scenes together with mountains of emotion. I liked that the film didnt dwell on the bombing because that wasn’t the point of the story, instead showing us the explosions only from the distant perspective of Erin and later revisiting the aftermath in an incredible, harrowing sequence following the blast and Jeff’s rescuing by a stranger named Carlos. Getting too far into the bombing itself, or the ensuing manhunt (only mentioned briefly on a news clip), would have cheapened the film and made it feel gimmicky or exploitative, so pulling back the reins was a good choice. This is a very good film about bravery, family and believing in yourself to overcome a horrible situation, and I would highly recommend giving it a watch.

 

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