Stronger

'Give us a kiss!'
Verdict: 
7/10 – An emotional film in many ways, Stronger is just missing something extra to make a real impact.
Release Date: 
Friday, December 8, 2017
Written by: 

Jake Gyllenhaal represents all that is 'Boston Strong' in this film about the city's bombings in 2013.

7

In a world where terrorist attacks have become one of society's greatest fears, it's impossible not to become overcome with emotions if watching a film about one.

But in the case of Stronger, based on the book of the same name by Jeff Bauman, a survivor of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings - the real heart of the tale is recovery, with Jake Gyllenhaal taking on the lead role.

Before the event that changed his life forever, Jeff worked on the deli counter in Costco.

Despite being a bit of a troublemaker in the store, and at one point burning food in the kitchen, he's respected and appreciated by his colleagues, with one even offering to clean up his mess as he dashes off to watch sports in a local bar.

But his viewing is interrupted when he spots his ex-girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany), who has signed up to run the Boston Marathon to raise money for the hospital where she works.

Although it's a slightly awkward encounter, Erin can't help but grin as Jeff announces her good deed to the whole bar, asking customers to donate generously.

He also promises he'll be there at the finish line with a huge sign, something which she struggles to believe since they had previously broken up due to his unreliability.

On the day of the race Jeff, running late after helping his mother Patty (Miranda Richardson) with something at home, rushes out with his huge sign.

But before Erin can see him and be proved wrong to doubt him, a huge explosion happens right next to where he is standing, causing horrific injuries to his legs requiring them to be amputated above the knee.

His whole family and Erin gather round, and as Jeff regains consciousness he reveals he saw the bomber at the scene of the crime, giving the F.B.I. a description of the later-arrested Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who made the weapons along with his brother and fellow Islamic extremist Dzhokhar.

Jeff is quickly established as a hero in his hometown, with his mother booking in interviews for him to share his story and document his rehabilitation process as he learns to live his life as an amputee.

Gyllenhaal's performance as Jeff tugs at heartstrings, even during the moments in which he sinks back into his bad old ways with Erin by getting drunk and failing to meet her for dinner.

And when he meets the man who saved his life, Carlos Arredondo (Carlos Sanz), and learns of the hurdles he's overcome himself it's easy to well up.

Maslany also gives it her all, playing the devoted-yet-torn girlfriend whose own storyline focuses on her struggling to look after her bomb-victim boyfriend.

There's some much-needed humour throughout though, such as Jeff referring to himself as Lieutenant Dan (the Forrest Gump character whose legs get blown off) and at one point throwing himself off a swing to fall onto his tipsy pal. If it wasn't for these glimpses of light, Stronger would be a tough watch, as are most films based on real tragedies.

If you are familiar with Boston, whether you've visited it or have personal links to it, this film will appeal to you even more as while it's notably a movie about recovery, the references to the Massachusetts city throughout can be somewhat lost on those who have never been.

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