Friday, September 22, 2017

David Gordon Green's Boston Marathon bio-pic, STRONGER, certainly is -- for awhile, at least....

Thanks to an Oscar-worthy performances from lead Jake Gyllenhaal and supporting actress Miranda Richardson, and a less-showy-but equally-fine one from co-star Tatiana Maslany, STRONGER -- a new film about the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing from filmmaker David Gordon Green -- proves a better, much more real dissection of part of that event than did last year's too-often fake but feel-good Patriot's Day.

Filmmaker Green, shown below, provides his usual flair for documentary-like realism coupled to an ability to draw very strong characterizations from his entire cast. The generally well-drawn screenplay -- by actor/writer John Pollono and based on the book by Bret Witter and Jeff Bauman, the latter of whose story the movie tells -- helps a good deal, too.

For a feel-good, triumph-of-the-human-spirit movie -- which, unfortunately, this one turns out to be -- Stronger is surprisingly dark, from the beginning, going forward, and very nearly until its conclusion. To his and its great credit, Mr. Bauman -- portrayed ably by Mr. Gyllenhaal, below -- and the movie about him have trouble defining the man as any kind of "hero" of the Boston Marathon massacre. He was a victim not a hero, and the manner in which the media both heralds and uses him is sleazy and stupid, pointing up much that is regrettable about western society today.

Gyllenhaal's Bauman is, from the movie's initial scene, something of a charming fuck-up. His character doesn't change much throughout, as the actor insists upon showing us his warts-and-little-else personality. He evidently comes from a family of loudmouth Boston drunks, of which Ms Richardson's uber-controlling mother (below, right) is at the forefront.

What makes the movie as powerful as it is comes from Gyllenhaal's hugely committed work. He makes us experience this character's every painful, excruciating moment -- from the bombing itself (seen only in flashback) to waking up in the hospital bed and having the bandages painfully removed to his on-and-off but growing relationship to his girlfriend, portrayed with grit and caring by Ms Maslany, below.

In fact, so continually dark (and believable!) does the movie become, as Bauman descends deeper into depression, doom and drink, that when, far too suddenly, his journey shifts direction, it simply seems both too fast and somehow unearned. And as well-acted, despite too big a bundle of exposition, as the scene is, late in the film, between him and the fellow (played by Carlos Sanz, below, right) who saved his life by applying tourniquets to his thighs at the time of the bombing, as well as another confrontation between Bauman and a couple fans at a sports event, both of these scenes act as too-obvious explanations/shortcuts to recovery.

So, even as Stronger achieves its feel-good finish, its strength weakens accordingly. Too bad, because the performances are compelling and the subject matter and its theme are important. But mainstream movies have their demands, and though this happy ending (or middle, at least) actually happened, the road there, movie-wise, could have been better negotiated.

From Roadside Attractions and running 118 minutes, Stronger opens nationwide today, Friday, September 22. To find a  theater near you, simply click here then click on GET TICKETS on the task bar atop your screen.

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