As the events of David Gordon Green’s Stronger unfolded, I was reminded of my own life. We all struggle everyday of our lives, but no greater test of courage exists then what befalls us when tragedy strikes. For Jeff Bauman, a native of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, tragedy struck on April 15, 2013 as he waited for his ex – girlfriend to cross the finish line of the annual Boston Marathon, where he lost both legs in the bombing.
Jake Gyllenhaal, whose performances have gotten bolder over the years, expertly navigates the sensitivity of a man who not only had to emotionally grasp the changes to his own life, but also to be a symbol of courage and strength in the face of new adversity.
That adversity works in both directions, as Bauman exhibits signs of post traumatic syndrome while his family, unaware of his changed emotional state, try to take advantage of the situation. The story doesn’t dwell too much on the situation, but does create just the right amount of drama thanks to a needy and ultimately overprotective mom, Patty (Miranda Richardson). The initial intimacy between Gyllenhaal’s Bauman and Tatiana Maslany’s Erin Hurley quells the family drama, if only for a moment.
The wisdom of John Pollono’s first feature script is not that it focuses solely on Bauman’s recovery, but in how his recovery helped to inspire a city grieving over the event and a world still in shock over the actual event. Pollono based his script on Bauman’s memoirs, which he co-wrote with Bret Witter.
Director Green and Pollono went to lengths to ensure we understood Bauman’s frame of mind going into this event. Those choices removed the polarization that we might feel and at the same time, they amplified his struggles to recover; they were honest in their rawness too. Gyllenhaal’s Oscar – worthy performance exemplifies the struggle and the courage as we witness someone who’s so emotionally bent that he has no choice but to overcome his own internal struggles.
The finest moment in the film isn’t between Bauman and his family or his and Erin’s relationship struggles. All of those events serve to drive home the inspirational impact when Bauman meets the man who is credited with initially tending to his wounds, Carlos Arredondo (Carlos Sanz). Carlos was on the sidelines that infamous day, handing out American flags to spectators. In this scene we get the story behind why Carlos is an everyday hero. It’s an uplifting moment, that even as I write this, I’m getting emotional. An interview with Today can be found here.
All of these emotions culminate in a final moment of hero worship, and deservedly so. There are times where the melodramatic nature of the supporting roles diminishes the emotional impact. Bauman’s name is one you might not be familiar with, but his strength and endurance are qualities you will remember long after you’ve left the theater. Gyllenhaal’s performance and the nature of Green’s direction truly define the grace under pressure, coming out the other side of the two-hour run time with an uplifting message that we are not alone in our everyday struggles.