On April 15, 2013, hundreds of lives were irrevocably altered in Boston when two homemade explosives detonated close to the finish line of the city’s marathon.
The co-ordinated response to the terrorist attack and FBI-led manhunt were dramatised in yesteryear’s adrenaline-fuelled action thriller Patriots Day, starring Mark Wahlberg.
Stronger relives the same shocking attack from the perspective of Boston native Jeff Bauman, who was a well-wisher in the crowd that fateful day and lost both of his legs in the blast.
Adapted from Bauman’s memoir, David Gordon Green’s uplifting drama chronicles events before and after the race, capturing the unbearable toll on Jeff and the people around him.
Jake Gyllenhaal delivers an Oscar-worthy performance, bristling with raw emotion, as the survivor, who became a symbol of Boston Strong – the manifestation of a city’s unity in the face of barbarism.
It’s a muscular and harrowing portrayal that powerfully captures every strained sinew and aching muscle of Jeff’s nervous return to the land of the bruised but living.
The film opens with Jeff nursing wounds of failed romance.
He has lost his on-off girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany) because he was never there for her. When she unexpectedly turns up at a local bar, seeking donations for a marathon run in aid of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Jeff cajoles the rowdy clientele to dip into their wallets for a good cause.
“I’m going to be there at the finish line for you,” Jeff pledges to Erin, who has heard his false promises before. Except this time, Jeff is standing behind the barriers with a homemade sign, close to the spot where two explosives detonate, killing three and injuries hundreds.
Jeff wakes in a hospital bed surrounded by family and friends including his booze-sodden mother Patty (Miranda Richardson) and father Jeff Sr (Clancy Brown).
Erin is also there, crippled by guilt that her ex-boyfriend may never walk again.
Romance is rekindled as Jeff faces agonising rehabilitation under his mother’s roof, in a cramped apartment, which isn’t wheelchair accessible.
His strength becomes a beacon of hope to a scarred city but Jeff’s stoicism is a brittle facade and he struggles to contain his fear, rage and self-destructive impulses.
“I’m going to walk again with you some day,” Jeff defiantly vows to Erin.
Stronger is anchored by Gyllenhaal’s stellar theatrics, and strong support from Maslany and Richardson as the two fierce women who must fight – sometimes each other – to patch together Jeff’s splintered soul.
Director Green withholds the sickening horror of the bombing, in flashback, until the second half of the film, preferring to focus on flickering hope in the darkness. He earns our tears without resorting to shameless emotional manipulation.
His film stands tall and proud like the defiant everyman at its centre.