Stronger is a hymn to an incredible hero called Jeff Bauman

Jake Gyllenhaal delivers another superlative performance at the centre of David Gordon Green’s inspirational drama STRONGER.

Are heroes born, or are they made? In STRONGER, this true story from director David Gordon Green, we see young Jeff Bauman survive the horrific 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and become a hero in the process of recovering, giving hope to the people of his city in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Telling Jeff’s story truly and without sentimentalising, it became the passion project for actor/producer Jake Gyllenhaal. With his newly founded production company and following on from the success of his first producing project, Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal bought the rights to Jeff Bauman and Bret Witter’s book.

Tatiana Maslany and Jake Gyllenhaal in Stronger

Tatiana Maslany is Erin and Jake Gyllenhaal is Jeff

The resulting movie was the best film I saw at this year’s London Film Festival. Whilst it does tell Jeff’s life from before and after the bombing, a huge part of the film focuses on the love story between Jeff and his on/off girlfriend Erin Hurley. And perhaps with that romantic element, you may think the movie would be sentimental or schmaltzy but it’s not. This is a grittily told and very emotional drama that really will move you to tears.

Gordon Green, a director whose credits have ranged from the high comedy of Pineapple Express and Your Highness to the drama of his debut feature George Washington, Joe with Nicolas Cage and Manglehorn with Al Pacino, was a great choice for this, being someone who could marry the black humour of the Boston community in the face of sadness, with the pain of a man struggling to bring himself back from the brink of despair. 

The cast of STRONGER is another reason to see the movie, besides Gyllenhaal as Bauman delivering another superlative performance (and surely Oscar-nominated), you have Tatiana Maslany matching him scene for scene as Erin. The guilt that Erin feels when she visits Jeff at his hospital bed, having previously given him a hard time for never showing up when he says he will and constantly letting her down, is palpable on Maslany’s face.

Jake Gyllenhaal, Miranda Richardson and Tatiana Maslany in Stronger

Gyllenhaal with Miranda Richardson as his mother Patty and Maslany

There are times when Erin loves Jeff but he also drives her crazy and her life would be simpler if she just walked away from the relationship – which she does. But when he’s injured and loses both of his legs in the bombing, being at the marathon finish line to cheer her on, she commits herself wholeheartedly to helping him recover. Her passion for him to get better drives him to change and watching their relationship develop is incredibly moving.

And as Jeff’s mother Patty, the amazing Miranda Richardson tears up the screen. Patty is a force of nature, not given to mincing her words but letting everyone knows how she feels – quite often very loudly. More often than not a little worse for alcohol, she also has a touching naivety in thinking her maternal connection to Jeff and getting him back home will make him better. Patty’s strong-willed personality though is a trait Jeff has inherited and it’s this formidable (and sometimes exasperating) quality that does really help him move forward. And Richardson’s gorgeously raspy delivery which hollers at Gyllenhaal’s Jeff in many a memorable scene is quite something.

John Pollono’s screenplay pitches Bauman’s road to recovery exactly as Gyllenhaal had wanted it portrayed – without any kind of sugar-coating. The Boston blue-collar milieu we see on-screen looks and sounds really accurate and the characters all feel authentic. But above all, do see STRONGER because it makes you cherish life and cheer in the case of Jeff Bauman, who wouldn’t give up in the face of the most incredible adversity. It’s a wonderful, inspirational story.