Stronger, rated R
Stronger is a well-made film based on the life of 2013 Boston Marathon bombing victim Jeff Bauman. It was the second film made about the bombing, and features strong acting performances from Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff Bauman, Tatiana Maslany as his girlfriend Erin Hurley, and Miranda Richardson as Jeff’s mother Patty. The film is directed by David Gordon Green and written by John Pollono, based on the book Stronger by Jeff Bauman and Bret Witter.
28-year-old Jeff Bauman, portrayed superbly by Oscar nominee Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain), lives with his mother Patty (his parents are divorced), played well by two-time Oscar nominee Miranda Richardson (Tom & Viv, Damage), in a small two-bedroom apartment in Boston. Jeff is just an ordinary guy who works in the kitchen at Costco, drinks too much, and is a huge Boston Red Sox fan. His on again and off again (currently off) girlfriend is Erin Hurley, portrayed in a strong performance by Golden Globe nominee Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black). Erin is frustrated with Jeff because he never shows up for anything when he says he’s going to, especially when his Red Sox are playing.
While watching his Red Sox at his favorite bar with his friends, Jeff sees Erin and one of her friends. He goes over to Erin, and finds out that she is raising funds for her run at the Boston Marathon the next day. Jeff draws attention in the bar to her effort, helping her raise some money, and tells her that he will be there the next day at the finish line to cheer her on. Erin doubts that he will, because after all, isn’t there a Red Sox game tomorrow?
We see Jeff making a large sign that he can hold up at the finish line, and yes, there he is waiting for her as she approaches the finish line. But Erin then sees two large explosions up ahead. Shaken, Erin goes to a bar to call a friend for a ride. It is then when watching the coverage of the bombing on television, that she sees that not only was Jeff there to watch her finish, but he was one of the bombing victims.
Erin, still stunned, joins Jeff’s family and friends at the hospital, where they find out that he will live, but both legs had to be amputated just above his knees. When he awakens, Jeff asks for something to write with, and indicates that he saw the bomber, which helps the FBI to identify one of the bombers. His boss at Costco (Kevin Danny McCarthy), shows up, helps the family with Jeff’s medical insurance, and assures them that Jeff’s job with the company will be waiting for him when he’s ready.
The city of Boston comes together under “Boston Strong” and embraces Jeff as a hero. But Jeff starts to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) and depression after going home, which only Erin notices, especially after an emotional appearance on the ice waving a large flag at a Boston Bruins hockey game. Jeff begins to have flashbacks of the gruesome moments immediately after the bombing.
But his mom Patty seems to focus only on all of the attention Jeff is getting, even booking an interview with Oprah Winfrey without telling him. Meanwhile Erin decides to move into the already crowded apartment, as the tragedy brings she and Jeff closer. We see the tension and rivalry between Erin and Patty. Soon, on top of everything else, Erin finds out that she is pregnant. (Not shown in the film is that they get married after having their child together, but are divorced after 3 years.)
Jeff struggles with all of the attention he receives and doesn’t consider himself to be a hero. As reality of his situation sinks in, he continues to drinks too much, and shows up late, or not at all to his rehabilitation appointments. As a result, Jeff and Erin’s relationship suffers. Through Gyllenhaal’s, Maslany’s and Richardson’s strong, moving and realistic performances, we see what a difficult time this is for all involved. I loved how his friends still treated him as Jeff, not as a handicapped guy. Adding to the realistic feel is the performance of the medical personnel (doctors, nurses and physical therapists). Director David Gordon Green cast actual medical personnel to play those roles, and this adds to the realistic feel of the film.
This is not an easy film to watch, nor is it easy to recommend as entertainment. Now available on video, the film, which was critically acclaimed (94 critics/83 viewers ratings on Rottentomatoes.com), was a bomb at the box office, grossing just $6.1 million worldwide, against its $30 million budget. On the other hand, the 2016 film Patriot’s Day starring Mark Wahlberg, grossed $48.2 million.
Of special note is Carlos Arredondo, played by Carlos Sanz. Carlos is the person who probably saved Jeff’s life and is a true hero. He wasn’t a medical professional, but was at the Boston Marathon to honor his two sons. One of the best scenes of the film is when Carlos and Jeff meet in a restaurant, and Jeff gets to hear Carlos’ heart-breaking story.
Content concerns are many, and they include a significant amount of adult language, including the abuse of God’s and Jesus’ names several times, the gruesome aftermath of the bombing, and a scene of sexuality which includes some brief nudity. Most of the characters in the film drink a lot and we don’t see any of the characters demonstrate any faith.
While Patriot’s Day starring Mark Wahlberg, dealt with the capture of the bombers, this film only alludes to it. The focus here is on the emotional story of Bauman’s life (rehabilitation, relationship with Hurley, his family and friends).
Stronger is a well-acted film based on the true-life story of Jeff Bauman. It is not an easy film to watch, but if you do, you will be rewarded with some excellent acting performances and a gripping story.