Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Richard Lane Jr., Clancy Brown, Frankie Shaw, Jimmy LeBlanc. Directed by David Gordon Green. (2017, 119 min).
I suppose if one didn't appreciate the glossy, action-movie trappings of last year's Patriot's Day, which a was semi-fictionalized account of the hunt for the guys responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing, Stronger might be more palatable. But despite a more intimate, personal story, it's little more than a checklist of inspirational movie tropes.
Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a working Joe whose legs are blown off during the attack. Because he was able to identify one of the suspects, Jeff becomes a local hero and minor celebrity. He doesn't really understand, or want, all the attention and adulation, a feeling exacerbated by his alcoholic mother (Miranda Richardson), who keeps pushing him into the limelight.
|Jeff chooses not inform the home crowd that he's actually a Rangers fan.|
For much of the film, Jeff alternates between trying to adjust to a life of limited mobility and angrily - often drunkenly - wallowing in self-pity. There are times when only his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Erin (Tatiana Maslany), seems committed to seeing Jeff walk again. But even her resolve is often put to the test.
Stronger's heart is in the right place and Gyllenhaal instills Jeff with a simple likability that makes us empathize with him (even when he's being kind of a dick). However, the film doesn't really have much to say beyond what we've seen in countless other films where the protagonist is forced to overcome tragedy. Furthermore, its main character doesn't really engage in anything inspiring enough to make a movie about.
The performances are good and the story is presented with workmanlike skill. But despite a few moments of emotional intensity - and a stomach-churning flashback of the explosion's aftermath - Stronger is curiously uninvolving. Ultimately, it's one of those movies we respect more than enjoy.
MAKING-OF FEATURETTE: "Faith, Hope and Love: Becoming Stronger"