Stronger is the inspiring real life story of Jeff Bauman, an ordinary man who captured the hearts of his city and the world to become a symbol of hope after surviving the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
‘Stronger’ is another film about the Boston marathon bombings, following on from Peter Berg’s ‘Patriot’s Day’ from earlier this year. That film focused on an ensemble of characters impacted by the bombings, including the terrorists, police and civilians, one of whom was Jeff Bauman, a Boston native who lost his legs whilst waiting to cheer his partner at the finishing line. ‘Stronger’ is Jeff Bauman’s story and director David Gordon Green chooses to focus less on the bombings itself (beyond a couple of comments about TV reports, the terrorists are rarely mentioned far less seen) and more on the impact on Bauman’s life. Bauman is played by the ever reliable Jake Gyllenhaal, with the superb Tatiana Maslany (of TV’s ‘Orphan Black’) getting a solid showcase as his on-off girlfriend.
The film starts by introducing us to Bauman, who currently works at Costco and lives with his alcoholic mother (Miranda Richardson) in a small apartment. In a local bar he runs into his ex-girlfriend Erin (Maslany) and on discovering she is running the marathon, persuades various patrons to donate and promises he’ll see her at the finish line. From what we learn in these opening scenes, Bauman has made these promises before and failed to deliver. Everyone knows what happens next and Green wisely chooses to move past the marathon itself to the aftermath, focusing on the impact of the event on Bauman, Erin and his family as he tries to come to terms with losing his legs. In lesser hands, ‘Stronger’ could have fallen into the clichés and traps of a whole host of inspirational recovery dramas but there’s a real maturity and texture to this film. Bauman is never portrayed as a saint wanting to recover and do something incredible, but merely an ordinary guy who has had his life irreversibly impacted by a tragic event, and it’s all the better as a film for it. It’s helped by the strong performances across the ensemble (Clancy Brown is also good as Jeff’s father) and the narrative choice to build the film’s structure around Jeff’s attempts to both come to terms with his loss whilst also attempting to become a better person and a better partner to Erin.
Jeff Bauman became the epitome of the ‘Boston Strong’ mantra that quickly followed the tragic events of April 15th 2013 and ‘Stronger’ attempts to tell the story of the man behind the TV reports and newspaper articles. It’s led by great performances and particularly impresses when it gets to the heart of how everything has affected Bauman as an individual (the parading at sporting events is particularly well done, without explicitly detailing anything) and I thought it was a well crafted drama.
Directed By: David Gordon Green
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Clancy Brown and Frankie Shaw