Dir: David Gordon Green
With: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson
Runtime: 119 minutes

WHEN a horrifically injured Jeff Bauman woke up in hospital after the 2013 Boston marathon bombing he asked for a pen and paper. “Lt Dan,” he scratched, referring to the character in Forrest Gump who, like the 27-year-old, had lost both his legs.
In attempting a joke, Bauman was conforming to the stereotypical notions of a disabled hero: someone laughing in the face of tragedy, being inspiring, thinking of those around him, all that usual mood music jazz we have grown accustomed to seeing in the movies.
Fortunately, having introduced this tired tune, director David Gordon Green’s picture promptly mutes it. While Stronger cannot entirely resist cliches, it tries harder than most to show  the jagged reality of a world turned upside down by sudden disability.
Gordon Green does not spend long sketching in Bauman’s character because there is not that much to say. He worked on the deli section of Costco supermarket. He lived with his mum. He was an unreliable boyfriend, and had recently been dumped, again.
Played here by Jake Gyllenhaal, Bauman had gone to the finishing line of the marathon to cheer on his ex. The bombs went off a short distance from where he was standing. It was only the quick actions of those who rushed to help, applying tourniquets and administering other first aid, and the skill of the surgeons and nursing staff, that prevented the death toll of three from climbing higher. Bauman was one of the more than 260 people injured, his evacuation from the scene captured in a photo flashed around the world.
Patriots Day (2016) covered the events of that dreadful day in Boston from the angle of the manhunt for the bombers. It was a big picture view of the terrorist attack. Stronger, based on the book of the same name by Jeff Bauman, opts to get up close and personal, very personal, and is all the more affecting for it.
Being from Boston, Bauman comes with a loud, blue-collar, Red Sox-obsessed family in tow (I’m beginning to think there are no other kinds of families in Beantown). After the initial shock and anger, they rally round as best they can, but the flat he lives in with his mother (played by Miranda Richardson) is on the first floor, the doorways are barely big enough to get a wheelchair through, and every little thing is a struggle.
But that’s real life. To the outside world, Bauman, who also helped police identify one of the bombers, is simply a hero, the face of “Boston strong”, the phrase the city clutched to its heart. He is a living, breathing sign that “they”, the terrorists, would not win. At first, Bauman tries to go along with this. He knows the triumph over tragedy script like everyone else. 
Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) and Gyllenhaal wisely go beyond this to show what happens after the cameras go home. There is the gruelling physio, the depression, the medication, the flashbacks; and all of it played out against a background of chronic pain.
With the aid of SFX, and determined to present as accurate a picture as possible, Gordon Green traces Bauman’s  long haul recovery from the agonising pain of taking the bandages off to being fitted for artificial legs. Courtesy of Bauman’s medical insurance, he gets the best of care. How victims of such attacks elsewhere in the world cope is a question left on the table, unasked and unanswered.
Gyllenhaal is superb in these early stages, his performance becoming less convincing when the film, despite its initial promise, succumbs to some cliches of its own. A strong start and finish is similarly let down by an uncertain middle. Of the large supporting cast, Richardson’s boozy, overbearing mother act is a rather one note affair.
Not so Tatiana Maslany’s portrayal of Bauman’s extremely patient girlfriend Erin. Maslany is at the centre of one of the film’s most powerful scenes when she reminds Bauman that it is not just his life that changed forever that day but those of his family and friends too. Perhaps the boldest move the film makes lies in showing that those lives remain changed forever, that there is no easy road back, only a different direction that can be taken, or not.

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