BFI London Film Festival Reviews

Stronger – Review

Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the finest actors that we have in the industry. Even when he was playing an isolated boy wrapped in a plastic sphere. No wait, especially when he was playing an isolated boy wrapped in a plastic sphere (Bubble Boy was amazing.)  Let’s face it: since his furrowed crazed eyes as the disjointed Donnie Darko, Gyllenhaal has just excelled at every turn. Where are his accolades and awards? In fact, we’re still shocked that his work in Nightcrawler, Enemy, and Nocturnal Animals left him nomination-less (not that it matters, because, he was still critically acclaimed for all those roles and it is worth re-watching to see his fervent intensity.)

Now he is definitely punting for the big ‘O’ with this bait-y stereotypical drama Stronger.

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Based on a true story, the film revolves around Jeff Bauman who lost his legs in the Boston Marathon Bombing and has to adjust to his new life as an amputee. With Miranda Richardson and Tatiana Maslany, the movie also looks at how his new circumstance affects the people around him as well as his unwilling rise to fame as the face of the survivors and Boston Strong message. Blighted be constant reporters, as well as horrifying flashbacks, Bauman must learn to transform and find new strength.

Directed by David Gordon Green, Stronger is initially presented as a biographical drama about overcoming and bettering yourself. Yes, on the surface hits every notes of that genre. There is the initial struggle, the life-threatening moment, the determination to get better, and the love. Oh the love. Yes, Stronger hits basic script-writing tropes. But there is a difference here, embroiled in the flaws and faults of the characters presented.

See Jeff isn’t your archetypal survivor. He’s a drinker living with his alcoholic mother and is constantly surrounded by his boisterous, if kind-hearted, family. He fails and falters to hold it together, suffering from cruel PTSD and causing more pain to those around him. Despite every one’s best intentions, at points it seems impossible and that is intricately displayed here.

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Gyllenhaal is naturally brilliant: He has massively wide eyes which express so much anguish and hope all at the same time. Performing as a real life character, it is a laborious balance and these arduous elements are stunningly portrayed by Gyllenhaal as the grief and affliction viscerally transcends the screen.

The real acting triumph here is Tatiana Maslany. She stars as Erin Hurley, Bauman’s on again, off again girlfriend due to him letting her down repeatedly. After the accident, she takes on the role of his carer and it causes a massive strain on their relationship. Maslany is phenomenal, detailing the struggle and burden she too has taken on, especially when Jeff falls into despair. The pair have great chemistry, bouncing the inspiration and the devastation well.

Stronger is powerful, resonant, and feels tragically human. Led by a thunderous cast, this a true life story that’s original because it is completely real.


Stronger is out 8th December! 

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