Jake Gyllenhaal plays Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman in “Stronger,” an eloquent recovery-from-injury drama that mostly avoids sentimental cliché.
In “Stronger,” you hear the falls. Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal), recovering from a tragedy that left him a double amputee, falls a lot, and he falls hard: from the toilet, from his bed, from the artificial legs with which he must reacquaint himself, slowly and painfully, with walking. The movie doesn’t soften the harshness with which he hits the floor — you flinch at every thump — which makes it all the more affecting as he picks himself up again.
We’ve all seen plenty of inspirational recovery-from-injury dramas, but “Stronger” is better than most — it mostly, if not entirely, avoids sentimental cliché — and provides an eloquent backstory to a moment many of us will recognize. Bauman, a 27-year-old who worked in a Costco deli and dreamed of getting back together with his ex-girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany, of TV’s “Orphan Black”), was among the victims of the bombings at the Boston Marathon in 2013; a photograph of a dazed, bleeding Bauman being wheeled away from the site became internationally famous. It’s a scene we see replicated in the early moments of the film. Most of “Stronger” is devoted to what came afterward: how Jeff, with help from Erin and his loving, boisterous family, began to recover.
Gyllenhaal, with a rumpled Boston accent and a lazy smile, is immensely likable as Jeff, who movingly struggles with the notion of heroism (“I’m a hero for standing there and getting my legs blown off?”) and with the way people need to see him as a symbol of strength against terrorism. Miranda Richardson, as Jeff’s alcoholic mother, has some lovely moments, particularly one scene early on as she gazes at Jeff in his hospital bed, uncharacteristically silent, as if all light has drained from her face.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Stronger,’ with Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Clancy Brown, Lenny Clarke. Directed by David Gordon Green, from a screenplay by John Pollono, based on the book by Jeff Bauman and Bret Witter. 119 minutes. Rated R for language throughout, some graphic injury images, and brief sexuality/nudity. Several theaters.
“Stronger,” ultimately, leaves its audience feeling a little stronger; we fall with Jeff, and we stand with him.
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