“Stronger” is directed by David Gordon Green and stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff Bauman, a man who lost his legs during the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.
This film is as much about acceptance, overcoming adversity, and taking ownership of your responsibilities as it is about Jeff’s recovery from a life-changing injury, and Green does well to frame the entire movie around these themes.
At the start of “Stronger” Jeff is a funny, likeable, care-free man chasing a girl he’s been dating on-and-off for a prolonged period of time. Immediately the idea that Jeff doesn’t show up is planted in the audience’s mind as Erin (played by Tatiana Maslany) cites this as one of the reasons why she recently broke up with him, and it’s this character trait which sparks the conflict of the movie into motion.
In this film just as in real life Jeff goes to the Boston Marathon to cheer Erin on, attempting to displace the aforementioned idea that he isn’t reliable and therefore isn’t a good choice of partner. In doing so his life is altered dramatically as not only does he lose his legs but he also identifies one of the bombers from memory and becomes a local hero in the process.
This movie works on a number of levels – in one sense it’s a film about coping with a horrific injury and the trauma that comes with that, but in another it’s a story about handling celebrity whilst struggling to keep a stable personal life. It’s a very complex and emotionally affecting drama which is made all the more powerful by two immaculate lead performances from Gyllenhaal and Maslany.
The love story between Jeff and Erin is the thread that ties the film together and it’s worth saying that Maslany is perfect as Erin. Erin is devoted to Jeff throughout the film and loves him sincerely, but before the accident she was tired of putting up with his lack of dependability and although Jeff’s injuries create an obligation for her she’s strong enough to do what’s right for herself regardless of the situation that she’s in.
She’s a very well-realised and relatable character and she certainly isn’t a plot device in this movie. She doesn’t feel as though she’s there to act as a pawn in Jeff’s story and if anything this is as much a film about her as it is about him – as she points out in the movie Jeff’s injury didn’t just happen to him, it happened to all the people that love him and are there for him every day.
To summarise, “Stronger” is a wonderful movie about a painful event in our recent history and a family’s struggle to recover from something that they never could’ve expected. It tackles its subject matter with care and within the ugliness there’s plenty of joy to be found. The visuals are harrowing, the performances are fantastic, and from start to finish I was emotionally invested in what was happening.