Earlier this year, we received the powerhouse Patriot's Day - a film that delved into the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing. Following in the same steps, we now have another film that takes a look into the tragedy: Stronger.

Director David Gordon Green tells the inspiring true story not of the bombing as a whole, but rather that of Jeff Bauman (played by Jake Gyllenhaal). Bauman and his girlfriend, Erin (Tatiana Maslany), were very on-off - Bauman has a bad track record for not turning up - and trying to iron out their issues. However, when tragedy strikes Bauman - as he waits eagerly, with a big banner and an equally big smile on his face, to prove himself to Erin at the finish line of the Boston Marathon - the couple find themselves really put through the wringer. Leaving both of Jeff's legs amputated, this tragedy leaves both of them having to fight and to be stronger than ever before. And it's quite an engrossing watch. What often tends to be the case with films that are under this umbrella of a true story is the line between fact and fiction is often blurred and filmmakers usually find themselves tiptoeing around the subject - especially when the incident in question is something as recent and still quite as tragic as the Boston Marathon Bombing, which only happened back in 2013.
However, similarly to what Peter Berg was able to do so brilliantly with Patriot's DayDavid Gordon Green tells this story with such warmth and sincerity whilst never feeling like he's shying away from the weight of the situation at hand, able to walk that aforementioned line quite well, never sugarcoating the reality of Bauman's struggle - something perhaps another LFF film, Breathe, was a victim of. This film is such a fascinating, heartfelt look at such a flawed character and his inspiring story of redemption; Bauman is an imperfect man, but he's just that: a man. The screenplay never tries to paint him as something he is not and it's this relatability and authenticity to his character that makes Stronger all the more inspiring in the end. It's a touching story and one that Gordon Green tells with such emotion and heart, and it's anchored by two astounding lead performances. Tatiana Maslany is an absolute revelation here, giving such an emotionally charged and heart-wrenching performance as Bauman's girlfriend Erin. However, this is undoubtedly Gyllenhaal's film to shine and, yet again, we get another Oscar-calibre performance from Jake here - once again proving himself to be one of the best actors working. He disappears into the role completely, embodying everything about Bauman. It's such a naked, vulnerable role and Gyllenhaal commands your attention and commands the screen; it feels so effortless yet so nuanced and riveting to watch.

Stronger is by no means perfect. Whilst it has a clear-cut narrative that shows both the heart and the emotion of such a situation, the film does feel like it starts to hit some conventional beats towards the middle act. It's always hard to judge a film based on true events given it's hard to distinguish real-life from Hollywood, and whilst this is very much a film that feels raw and real, it doesn't quite have that deep-cutting edge and punch we're perhaps looking for. It's a compelling look at Bauman's life and his struggle but it starts to lose its steam when the genre tropes and formula begin to come into play. Also, whilst Gordon Green does a good job with this story, his direction fails to impress. This film is simple and goes for a very Lifetime-TV vibe and aesthetic; but rather than add a bare-bones, simplistic and naturalistic vibe to the film, it comes across as feeling lazy and cheap. So Stronger has flaws, but it's an interesting biopic, anchored by two astonishing performances.

STRONGER OPENS IN THE UK ON DECEMBER 8TH, 2017.


VERDICT:
Anchored by a blistering and magnetic performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, and Tatiana Maslany, Stronger makes for a touching, if conventional, biopic.

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About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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