“Stronger” is another of those inspiring real life stories of an ordinary, in this case working class man or woman overcoming illness or disability and becoming, as the film’s synopsis describes it, “a symbol of hope”.
The hero is Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal), who was a spectator in the crowd at the 2013 Boston Marathon, which turned out to be one of those dark episodes in America’s battle with terrorism. A bomb goes off, Jeff is right in its path and he loses both legs in the attack. After a long and painful period of rehabilitation in which he has to learn to use his new prosthetic legs, Jeff fights his way back to meaningful life with the support of his family and girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany).
Bauman did help the police identify one of the bombers, who were brothers of Chechen descent, but the thrust of the film is not about the hunt for terrorists but about Jeff’s personal battle. It’s well acted, particularly by Gyllenhaal. While he doesn’t totally convince as a paid up member of the Boston working class, his depiction of the physical and emotional pain of Jeff’s struggle is sensitively and movingly depicted, from the moment he realises what has happened to his legs to the often humiliating challenge of trying to cope with the ordinary things of life which we take for granted, like getting into the shower. One scene that sticks in the mind is in the toilet when he reaches for the toilet roll, tumbles over and is left helpless on the floor. Maslany, as the loyal girl friend he wins back as a result of his adversity, gives him strong support both in terms of her character and as an actor. Miranda Richardson is unexpected but strong casting as Jeff’s mother, a very working class, beer loving cookie, who sometimes lacks the imaginative empathy to deal with her son’s struggle as opposed to being the saintly mother of a brave hero.
The film will inevitably resonate more strongly with American audiences than UK ones. The very title is tied in with Boston’s image of itself as “Boston Strong”. It’s well made and well acted and Jeff Bauman’s courage is much to be admired. There is a certain feeling of déjà vu however about the predictability of the story and too often one is aware of what may well be unconscious subliminal propaganda on the part of the film makers, promoting the inspirational idea that “Americans are the greatest, the stronger and whatever challenge we face, we will always come out on top.” Fair enough I suppose. We probably do that in the UK too sometimes, when telling the story of one of our heroes.