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"STRONGER"
(2017) (Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Following a terrorist bombing that's left him a double amputee, a twenty-something man, along with his girlfriend and others, must contend with the physical, emotional and psychological aftermath of the incident, his subsequent recovery, and being deemed a hero by others.
PLOT:
Jeff Bauman (JAKE GYLLENHAAL) is a 28-year-old man who still lives with his mom, Patty (MIRANDA RICHARDSON), in a tiny apartment located in Boston where he works at the local Costco. He's been in an on-again, off-again relationship with hospital staffer Erin Hurley (TATIANA MASLANY), and thinking they're back on again, he heads down to the finish line of the Boston Marathon to cheer her on as she completes the race.

But that never happens as two terrorist bombs go off there, killing three and wounding hundreds more, including Jeff. Considering the severe injuries to his legs, doctors amputate both just above the knee. His survival, prominent photo of the immediate aftermath of the bombing, and his ability to identify one of the bombers turns him into something of a local hero and celebrity.

It also endears him to Erin who decides to move into his small room in that small apartment. From that point on, they must contend with his rehabilitation, PTSD and his reluctance to be considered a hero.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Actors comes in all shapes and sizes and so does how performers go about acting. Some dig into their own pasts and emotions to connect to their characters and stories, others inhabit their parts so deeply that they don't break character even when the cameras aren't rolling, and the rest simply show up for work and when the director calls for action, they simply pretend to be who they're playing.

With the increasing use of computer-generated effects, many must rely on their imagination to "see" what isn't present on the set and will be added later in post-production. A few, on the other hand, arrive on the set with certain attributes, only to have them removed in post-production.

Perhaps the most famous and an early indicator of how such special effects could be used in ways to fool viewers in otherwise realistic looking moments was with Gary Sinise playing double amputee Vietnam vet Capt. Dan in "Forrest Gump." Beyond being a technological achievement in making everyone believe his legs really were no longer present, it was an acting triumph by the veteran performer.

Not only did he pull off the emotional side of such a bodily loss, but he also moved his body in ways that sold that notion to viewers. After all, legs are large limbs and not having them certainly changes the body's balance, movements and more.

More than likely with that performance in mind, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a similarly physically disabled man in "Stronger," the dramatization of the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing on Jeff Bauman and those in his immediate life.

The second picture to cover the terrorist event -- the first being "Patriots Day" from last year -- this one is more narrow in its focus. Rather than featuring multiple storylines and characters related to the incident -- including the manhunt for the two perpetrators -- this offering focuses on Bauman's recovery and the incident and its aftermath's effect on him, his girlfriend (Tatiana Maslany), mother (Miranda Richardson) and others in his immediate circle. It also deals with unexpected fame and social status thrust on such survivors and how they deal with that.

It's certainly an affecting and effective story -- written by John Pollono (adapting Jeff Bauman and Bret Witter's book) and directed by David Gordon Green -- especially considering that Bauman (at least as presented here) isn't exactly the most sympathetic character around (although, to be fair and comparative, neither was Sinise's character in that now 23-year-old film).

But Gyllenhaal -- who continues to prove he's one of the best actors working today -- makes us care about the character, even considering the to-be-expected emotional arc of such a victim. And his physical recreation of a double amputee -- obviously done via special effects -- is spotless as far as these eyes could see. Never do you imagine the actor's legs were really there during filming, especially when prosthetics are introduced and the character (and thus the performer) walks on them (which is entirely different than walking on real legs in terms of weight distribution, gait, the use of one's upper body and so on).

Maslany is also quite good as Bauman's girlfriend who sacrifices a great deal in helping in his recovery, even if we've seen that sort of helpful but emotionally abused character before. And Richardson is also good as the self-centered mother who wants her fifteen minutes of fame even if it has to come through his suffering.

Hitting all of the emotional moments -- including those with some deep resonance late in the offering -- "Stronger" indeed proves the old mantra about the aftermath of what doesn't kill you. The film rates as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed September 21, 2017 / Posted September 29, 2017


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