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‘Stronger’ builds powerful story about community and hope

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Preston Barta

Stronger (3.5 stars)

Rated R, 116 minutes.

Opens Friday.

3.5 of 5 stars

There’s a reason why we see many movies address the same subject. Any moment in history can be viewed from multiple perspectives and teach us something that wasn’t necessarily apparent before.

Filmmaker David Gordon Green’s emotionally-riveting Stronger is the second film this year to come out about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. While Patriots Day, starring Mark Wahlberg, proved to be an effective procedural drama about a community coming together, Stronger narrows its focus and delves into the emotions leading up to, during and after that tragic day four years ago.

In the film, Jake Gyllenhaal portrays Jeff Bauman, a survivor of the bombing who lost both of his legs. Green undoubtedly paints how vital the bombing is to the story, especially in the way he holds showing the brutality of the event toward the latter half of the movie. But to much surprise, Stronger puts the attacks to the side to tell a rather human tale of struggle and finding hope within. As anyone could imagine, the effects of such a horrifying happening are scarring, not just physically but emotionally.

This is where Stronger excels most in its story. Gyllenhaal doesn’t force a feeling on its audience or push his performance over the line. It’s clear that he and Green want to honor Bauman’s story and the Boston community. Bauman became a beacon of hope for the city, and when a movie tackles such an inspirational story as this, it’s a common thing for filmmakers to slip into Hallmark Channel territory.

Like most films based on real events, there’s a delicate balance for a filmmaker to achieve. On one hand they want to pay proper tribute, but on the other, they want to create a film that feels fresh and organic. Stronger’s first act falls victim to leaning more toward coloring its characters in a positive light than how it may have really happened. This is most notable at the film’s beginning, where it quickly tries to introduce our characters and make them likable before the attacks take place.

Tatiana Maslany in a scene from <i>Stronger</i>.&nbsp;AP
Tatiana Maslany in a scene from Stronger
AP

Thankfully, Green recovers the film’s slight turbulence by boldly illustrating how complicated the story’s characters are after the fact. While Gyllenhaal does depict Bauman as a guy with some issues leading into the tragedy (shown through the failed relationship between Bauman and his ex-girlfriend Erin Hurley, played by an award-worthy Tatiana Maslany), everything is magnified once the real struggle begins.

Stronger doesn’t stitch all its well-set-up story elements together by the end, such as Bauman’s relationship with his alcoholic mother (a terrific Miranda Richardson), but the film shares a profound message of personal growth in the face of adversity. And that’s admirable.

PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work on FreshFiction.tv. Follow him on Twitter @PrestonBarta.

FEATURED IMAGE: Jake Gyllenhaal in a scene from Stronger. Photo via Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions/AP.