It’s fall and sure enough, there’s Oscar buzz in the air. The latest high-profile contender to be released is Stronger, a biographical drama chronicling the experience of Boston Marathon bombing victim Jeff Bauman. The film was adapted from Bauman’s book of the same name (co authored by Bret Witter) and directed by David Gordon Green. The emotionally wrenching film stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Canadian Emmy winner Tatiana Maslany. Stronger focuses on the deeply personal story of Bauman and Erin Hurley, a couple whose lives and relationship are profoundly and forever affected by the horrific events of that day in 2013.
Earlier this year, another film about the marathon bombing, called Patriots Day, was released. While that movie chronicled the planning, execution, and subsequent investigation and manhunt for the terrorists, Stronger has a much more narrow scope to its narrative as it puts the spotlight squarely on Bauman and explores the ways in which the bombing changed him and the lives of his friends and family members.
Needless to say, given the talent involved in this film, the acting is top notch. Gyllenhaal disappears into his role as he depicts the harrowing experience of a man who, purely by chance, was thrown into a horrific situation and forced to cope not only with the physical trauma of losing both of his legs but also deep emotional wounds. Stronger also sheds light on how Bauman’s ordeal was made all the more difficult by the added burden of living up to the expectations of an entire city which held Bauman up as a hero and symbol of the resilience and strength of Bostonians in the face of terrorism. Maslany is equally pitch perfect as Bauman’s on-again off-again girlfriend Erin who, throughout the course of the film, is forced to deal with feelings of guilt; the only reason Bauman was standing at the finish line on race day was in support of her participation in the event.
A surprise highlight of the film is the performance of British actress Miranda Richardson as Bauman’s mother Patty. Brash, loud, drunk, overbearing: all are words that could describe this flawed character. Yet despite Patty’s bluster and rough exterior, Richardson is still able to convey the reality of this character as a mother who truly loves her son.
One technique director Green employs in order to visually express a sense of intimacy in Stronger is his choice to keep the camera focused on the central characters rather than using lots of edits and cutaways. A good example of this takes place in the hospital shortly after the explosion. Bauman’s parents are depicted sitting across a table as a doctor tells them about their son’s injuries. Green presents this scene in one long take as the anguished couple are depicted sitting behind a table with the doctor being heard but not shown. In this way, Green forces viewers to confront the parents face to face as we witness their initial relief at hearing that their son is alive and then shock and pain as details of his double leg amputation are revealed.
Stronger also explores notions concerning the nature of heroism and the repercussions of unrealistic expectations. Jeff Bauman is portrayed as a multi layered human being who must adapt to a new and challenging reality. His experience isn’t pretty or the stuff of fairy tales, but gruelling and gut-wrenching. The obstacles that he and Erin must contend with manifest themselves in a variety of physical and emotional forms.
At its core, Stronger is about one man’s inspirational fight to persevere after suffering through an unthinkable tragedy. It’s also the real life love story of two people whose bond endured and grew even in the face of adversity and hardship. The relationship between Jeff and Erin demonstrates that indeed love is stronger than hate.
Stronger is now playing in theatres.