Stronger sounds like the sort of film that doesn't actually get made. Jeff Bauman was the young man who, after losing both legs beneath the knee in the Boston Marathon bombing, helped identify the culprit from his hospital bed. Inevitably there was talk of a "Hollywood movie". But they always say that.
Stronger sounds like the sort of film that, if it did get made, would turn out to be a fist-puncher of the corniest stripe. That has not proved to be the case. The impressively versatile David Gordon Green has given us a raw, unsentimental examination of post-traumatic stress disorder. The picture has its shaky moments, but its integrity cannot be questioned.
Jake Gyllenhaal grapples those eccentric Massachusetts vowels towards submission in a performance that bristles with rarely articulated fury. Bauman was at the finishing line to cheer on his recently estranged girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany) as she finished the race. The two reunited during his rehabilitation and later had a daughter together (though a glance at Wikipedia tells us they divorced earlier this year).
A few liberal prejudices are defied in the aftermath of the attack. Contrary to the expectations of his blue-collar family, Jeff’s employers at Costco, the retail giant, continued his employment and the company’s insurance paid his medical expenses. Meanwhile, the city got behind him in characteristically robust fashion. Everywhere he goes, Jeff encounters the yelled mantra “Boston strong!” By the close, the refrain has taken on a hectoring, accusatory timbre. The city gives him everything he needs bar the space to pull himself together.
Gyllenhaal has rarely been better. A decent man not over-burdened with drive, Bauman undergoes no corny revelations, but he slowly comes to a better understanding of his potential and his responsibilities. Tatiana Maslany confirms her chops with a rooted, moving turn as the calm eye of a boozy, New England hurricane. Miranda Richardson's bafflingly broad turn as Jeff's mum is more, well, problematic. If French and Saunders ever need somebody to pastiche Melissa Leo's trademark, blue-collar materfamilias they have their woman.
Otherwise first rate.