Stronger review: A touching, more powerful film than expected | Films | Entertainment

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Last year there wasn’t much appetite for Patriots Day, Peter Berg’s thriller about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

And after similar attacks in London and Manchester, I doubt many will be ready for Stronger, the second film to dramatise the American attack.

I suspect award panels might be more enthusiastic.

Jake Gyllenhaal is at his best as Jeff Bauman, a young supermarket worker who lost both legs in the bombing.

But the star of the film is the real Bauman who bravely consented to this bruisingly honest approach to his best-selling book.

To many Bostonians, Jeff is an inspiring figure, a symbol of the city’s refusal to be cowed by terror.

But for director David Gordon Green and screenwriter John Pollono, it’s his imperfections that make him interesting.

It’s a touching film but not a saccharine one.

This warts-and-all account ensures that every tear will be earned.

When we meet Jeff he’s trying to get back together with his on-off girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany), who has grown tired of waiting for him to show up.

To win her back, Jeff romantically pledges to forgo the bar and a Red Sox baseball game (his two passions) to cheer her on as she finishes the Boston marathon.

But as he waves the banner he’s lovingly fashioned for her, a shadowy figure in a baseball hat barges past.

Minutes later, tragedy strikes leaving Jeff in hospital, both of his legs amputated above the knee.

When he comes round, he scrawls three messages on a piece of paper.

The first asks about Erin and the second is a joke to reassure his loved ones.

It was the third – “I saw the bomber” – that led the FBI to his hospital bed and turned Jeff into a hero.

Within hours, Jeff’s picture was all over the news along with the city’s new inspirational logo: “Boston Stronger”.

The supermarket worker had become a symbol of hope.

But Jeff isn’t stronger.

He’s scared, lonely and traumatised.

His overbearing, alcoholic mother (Miranda Richardson) appears to be thriving in the spotlight, but Jeff is wilting fast.

As Jeff battled to get his life back on track, I expected to hear the familiar beats of the inspirational weepie, but Pollen’s shrewd script refuses to provide the requisite uplift.

Gyllenhaal remains a very unusual hero: angry, selfish and prone to self-pity.

This honesty adds poignancy to the fi lm’s quieter scenes.

There’s a lovely moment where Jeff and Erin are enjoying each other’s company on a rooftop.

“I wish you were leaning on me,” he says and Gyllenhaal’s Jeff just leaves it there.

We’ve witnessed the many practical challenges Jeff faces, but regaining his identity will be the most daunting of all.

This might not be the inspirational drama Bostonians wanted but I found it to be far more powerful than I expected.

Now the White House is parodying itself, there can’t be much left for US satirists to do.

So perhaps it’s a good time for Saturday Night Live regulars Dave McCary and Kyle Mooney to show off their other talents.

Stronger – (15, 119 mins)

Director: David Gordon Green

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson



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