Like so many true stories that make their way to the silver-screen, Stronger could’ve easily run a risk of laying it on just a little too thick, becoming a clichéd journey to triumph complete with soaring soundtrack and a final freeze frame. Thankfully, in the hands of David Gordon Green, Boston bombing survivor, Jeff Baumer’s story doesn’t suffer such a fate. His is a tale that deserves better and it’s apparent from the get go that the director and cast are keen to make sure they deliver.
Wasting no time in the build up to that tragic day, Green handles the harrowing incident that shook the city of Boston with grace and tact and continues to show this level of decency from then on. The manhunt that was brought about by Jeff and his memory of an out-of-place face in the crowd is brushed over, and why wouldn’t it be? Our hero was in and out of consciousness for most of it, only waking to tell the FBI what he saw and learning that his life has been changed forever. The real story here is how he learns to deal with it and the struggle that not only he was forced to endure, but for all those close to him, as well.
It really is a credit to Green as a director to show just how far he’s come from the likes of Pineapple Express and Superbad. Casting an unflinching eye over this struggle that not only Jeff but those around him are forced to endure, not a single moment is wasted in showing how every person is dealing with this aftermath. For every moment of despair there’s Jeff’s growing bitter sense of humour and retaliation to the situation he’s found himself in, whether it’s the changing of his bandages for the first time, or getting his buddy to work the pedals when he fancies a drive after a few too many beers. This alone builds a realism that lets Stronger stand out, where emotions run just as high in the darkness of despair as they do with the brief flickers of levity, both of which come from the films incredible leading pair.
Gyllenhaal delivering a great performance is as predictable as sunlight. No matter what film he’s in there’s a charm and sincerity he displays that compels you to stick it out, simply for what he brings to the table. Here his powerful and engrossing portrayal feels solid, real and immensely effective but it’s only propelled by his co-star who is going through just as much and giving it her all, as well.
Orphan Black acting dynamo, Tatiana Maslany is a force to be reckoned with here as Jeff’s heartbroken girlfriend, Erin Hurley. Burdened with guilt and a view of Jeff’s future that few choose to see (including an impressive Miranda Richardson as Jeff’s mother, Patty), she’s the rock that pushes with and against her on again/off again boyfriend, building some of the film’s highly compelling moments.
Some of Stronger’s hardest scenes aren’t with Baumer but the woman stood beside him; whether it’s a heated confrontation with the mother-in-law, or a particularly poignant moment of seeing her clearing out Jeff’s sock drawer, she takes it in her stride and shows that Jeff isn’t the only one with a rough road ahead and seeing both of them both on the journey to get there is certainly worth the watch.