Director: David Gordon Green
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Clancy Brown
It’s no secret that I’m a huge admirer of Jake Gyllenhaal’s work. We even recently wrote a piece in which we ranked our favourite Gyllenhaal performances, of which Stronger was one of them. He’s a truly remarkable actor who is deserving of an Oscar, yet I do feel that as good as his performance in Stronger is, this shouldn’t be the film that gets him that award.
Stronger tells the real-life story of Jeff Bauman who lost his legs during the horrific bombings during 2013’s Boston marathon. He became the symbol of hope for the American people after he helped the police with their inquiries by identifying one of the bombers. It was actually the first thing he did once waking up in the hospital. Yet, Stronger isn’t about that story. It’s about what happened afterwards. David Gorden Green’s movie shows Jeff’s struggle to regain some kind of normality in his life and how his accident not only affected Jeff but also his loved ones and most of all, his girlfriend Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany).
Erin is arguably the most fascinating character in this film. Not only is she played brilliantly by Tatiana Maslany, who you may know from the TV show Orphan Black, but Erin had to literally give up her whole life so that she could look after Jeff. She gave up her job, her friends and even moved in with Jeff and his rather overbearing mother (equally wonderfully portrayed by Miranda Richardson. I didn’t recognise her until relatively late on in the picture).
I’m going to be there at the finish line for you. I’m going to make a big sign for you!
Maslany perfectly blends into her character in what is a very understated performance. Despite going through such a traumatic experience, she has to keep it together for Jeff. What’s even more impressive is the fact that they weren’t even together before the incident and Jake Gyllenhaal’s Jeff isn’t the easiest person to get along with.
This leads us nicely on to Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance, which much like Maslany’s is understated apart from one rather shouty scene. Gyllenhaal has an uncanny ability to really embody his characters. I really do believe that he could play anybody. He’s done the same thing here again. There’s also a lot for him to play with here. Jeff is funny, childish, doesn’t like to be touched, reserved, troubled… He’s an actor’s dream role and Gyllenhaal plays it to perfection.
Bauman was, and probably still is, a man who became a hero and who had no interest in the attention. He just wanted to get on with his life and Gyllenhaal plays that fact flawlessly. Jeff Bauman is not unlike a soldier returning home from war and suffering from PTSD. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a bunch of nominations come awards season. Although, I do think that Maslany is the film’s true star.
However, this is also my problem with the film. I couldn’t help but think that this was a ‘for your consideration’ movie. It’s the type of film that’s beginning for an Oscar. This by no means suggests that it’s a bad movie. It’s a well-written, solidly directly and perfectly acted movie, yet there’s just something lacking. It doesn’t always feel totally genuine and I do have a slight problem with these types of films. I felt a similar way about Eddie Redmayne’s The Theory Of Everything which felt very much like an Oscar vehicle for the actor.
I’m a hero for just standing there and getting my legs blown off?
I do wonder whether Gyllenhaal read the script for Stronger and thought that by doing this he would be a dead cert for an Oscar nomination and maybe even win it. Gyllenhaal wowed me with his performances in Donnie Darko, Nocturnal Animals and especially Nightcrawler. I feel that Stronger is the weakest out of those movies because it lacks the earnestness of some of his other work.
That said, Stronger is still a good movie which tells an important story and as I’ve mentioned previously, the performances are good. Yet, I do not believe it will be a film that many people will want to revisit further down the line. For instance, I haven’t rewatched The Theory Of Everything nor The Imitation Game since they came out and I think that Stronger is in the same category as those movies. One which I like to call ‘The Oscar-bait category’.