It isn’t uncommon to see two films on the same subject matter in quick succession, and following Peter Berg’s Patriots Day, we have Stronger, another film which takes its inspiration from the true stories that came out of the Boston Marathon Bombing in April 2013.
With the events only being 4 years ago, it is all still very fresh, and as the two films have very different approaches and stories, it isn’t unjustified that both of them exist. Whereas Patriots Day told the story of the immediate aftermath of the bombing, mostly from the perspective of the Police, as they tracked down the people responsible, Stronger focuses on the longer-term human impact of the story, recounting the true story of Jeff Bauman (played here by Gyllenhaal); whose picture became one of the headline images following the bombing.
It’s compelling subject matter for a film such as this, and whilst Stronger is ultimately flawed, it has to be commended for taking a very different and unexpected angle for a biopic. There’s no romanticism here or over-sentimentalised fluff; instead it is emotive, angry, visceral and raw. Jeff is a man who has the heroes mantle thrust upon him but in reality he feels like anything but. His journey is an interesting one, but his character is not the most likeable which is really where this film fails.
Whilst the performances are good all round, none of the characters are particularly likeable, and this makes it difficult to feel engaged both with their individual plights, and the narrative as a whole. There’s no questioning that this film was going for a realistic approach but the characters spend most of the time talking over each other or yelling and this was tough to overcome.
There are brighter spots in the latter half of the film, particularly the scene between Gyllenhaal and Carlos Sanz, who plays the man who aided him in the immediate aftermath of the bomb. Their conversation is subtle and quiet, but yet one of the most powerful and emotive moments in the whole film.
Whilst the more realistic approach does help to distinguish this from Patriots Day, it also isn’t a format which works best for this type of story. When exploring what being a hero when you feel like anything but, actually means, then it is interesting. However when it tries to pair this with the inspirational story of a man overcoming great challenges, it falters and never strikes a clean balance between the two. Not a total catastrophe, but definitely not as good as it should’ve been, given the talent on screen.
I saw this movie so you don’t have to.