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Friday, October 6, 2017


(Jake Gyllenhaal)

A movie about some of America’s problems rather than a shining portrayal of the land of the free. (Review by Patrick Compton – 8)

A small cinema and TV industry has grown up around the terrorist bombing at the Boston marathon in 2013. Stronger, a largely powerful, convincing addition to this cluster, doesn’t focus on the details of the atrocity or the hunt for the bombers, but rather the fate of one of its victims.

Firstly, it’s important to know what this film isn’t. It’s not sentimental and it’s not jingoistic. In many ways, in fact, it’s a movie about some of America’s problems rather than a shining portrayal of the land of the free.

The two home-made bombs that exploded on the afternoon of April 15 killed three people and injured another 264, including 28-year-old blue collar worker Jeff Bauman, who had both his legs amputated above the knee. This film is about him, his family, his girlfriend and how he responded both to his injuries and his unsought-after celebrity.

Bauman, something of a mommy’s boy, is shown to be a member of a family who may well have gone on to vote Trump into power. They’re rough, prejudiced, partial to booze and not above a brawl or two. When we meet Jeff and Erin, his on-off girlfriend, she’s understandably frustrated by her unreliable man, who rarely pitches up for dates, usually preferring the company of his drinking buddies.

How ironic, therefore, that on the rare occasion when he does turn up – to welcome Erin on the finishing line after she has run the marathon – it very nearly costs him his life.

As Jeff begins his long rehabilitation from his terrible injuries we are introduced to his rough-tongued family. Miranda Richardson, a fine English actress (Dance with a Stranger), offers us a completely believable portrait as Jeff’s loving but drink-besotted mother, Patty, with whom he is living in a cramped apartment. Erin’s emotional problems with Jeff are as much about his relationship with his domineering but chaotic mother as they are with him.

The core of the film, however, revolves around the central relationship between the principals. Jeff, as played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is often the silent centre of family shouting matches, but his burning eyes and furrowed brow are eloquent indicators of his high levels of confusion, anger and self-pity. Gyllenhaal manages these negative transitions skillfully, as he does the more positive moments when the city celebrates him as a hero on various sporting occasions. It’s yet another powerful performance in Gyllenhaal’s growing gallery of memorable characters in movies as diverse as Donnie Darko, Brokeback Mountain, Love & Other Drugs, Source Code and Nightcrawler.

Tatiana Maslany is no less impressive in her arguably more difficult role as the girlfriend who finds herself – not always willingly – thrust into the centre of her stricken sometime-boyfriend’s life as he clings to her like an emotional lifejacket.

In a film that seems palpably real, my only major criticism is that it neglects to resolve Jeff’s relationship with his often obnoxious family, preferring instead to gloss over the lumps and bumps in favour of a smoothly tied up Hollywood ending. It’s the only moment when the film sounds a false note.

Stronger opened in Durban on September 29. - Patrick Compton