Most folks around here probably remember where they were when they heard the news on April 15, 2013 – two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring hundreds while triggering a state of panic across the region and country. Once the dust settled, out of all the chaos a central figure emerged as sort of the face of the victims: Jeff Bauman, the 28-year-old from Chelmsford, Mass., who lost his legs in the blast and whose photo of the wounds became famous.
Jake Gyllenhall took on the task of playing the role of Bauman in the new film Stronger, based on Bauman’s memoir of the same title, and he did an excellent job (not that we know Bauman or anything, but it was a strong performance by Gyllenhall).
The movie actually spends a relatively small amount of time on the bombing and all the chaos, and instead focuses on Bauman’s long and painful – physically and emotionally – road to recovery.
At its core, this is a movie about relationships, family, struggle, perseverance and the unexpected and unplanned nature of everyday life.
The main plot point in the movie surrounds Bauman’s relationship with his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Erin. The two are broken up when the movie starts, but after a chance encounter at a bar, Bauman learns she’s planning on running in the marathon. Her main knock on him was always that he never showed up for anything – he never left his apartment and only seemed to care about watching the Red Sox and drinking with his friends.
Of course, the one time he does show up, to cheer her on at the marathon with a big sign, tragedy strikes.
From this point on, Bauman just wants to try to live as normal a life as he can, despite the immense physical challenges he knows he faces. Everywhere he goes, though, people recognize him and want to talk to him and take pictures and ask questions. The more the movie goes on, the more Bauman’s frustration and anger starts to come through. “I don’t wanna relive the worst day of my life,” he says at one point.
The director, David Gordon Green, does a good job at not sensationalizing the violence and horror of that day. He also doesn’t try to elevate Bauman to some super-human, mega-hero status – the character is shown as a regular guy with plenty of flaws who was thrust into the national spotlight by no fault of his own. It never feels like exploitation or Hollywood over-dramatization.
This movie is not about the action, it’s about the emotions. There are several scenes throughout the film that will make your heart skip a beat, and you may even get some watery eyes from time to time. This is a testament to the acting by Gyllenhall, Tatiana Maslany – who plays the girlfriend, Erin – and Miranda Richardson, who plays the role of Patty, Bauman’s mother. Every one of them seemingly put their heart and soul into these roles, and the dialogue and body language feel shockingly and sometimes disturbingly real.
There is a lot of foul language and some blood and gore, but it’s a tasteful, well-done telling of a heart-wrenching story.
Check it out at Red River before it’s gone Oct. 5.