Good Acting, Weak Ideas

A Boston Marathon bombing drama takes the easy way out

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Stronger
Opens Sept. 22, wide
3 out of 5

Stronger is the second feature inspired by the Boston Marathon bombings to open this year, and tackles the event from an individual perspective, as opposed to Patriots Day’s “America, fuck yeah” approach.

The film is about Jeff Bouman (Jake Gyllenhaal), a flaky Bostonian who lost both his legs in the blast. Treated as a hero after the terrorist attack, Bouman isn’t given the time or the psychological support to come to terms with his new condition. Unsurprisingly, trauma flares up often.

Stronger covers Bouman’s rehabilitation and his relationship with Erin (Tatiana Maslany), his ex-girlfriend who was the reason Jeff was at the race in the first place. The complicated bond between Jeff and Erin is the heart of the movie and the film suffers whenever focus shifts away from the pair.

Even though the direction and acting are top notch (although the Boston personality traits border on caricature), Stronger is a very standard affair, almost movie-of-the-week like. Every traditional beat can be seen coming a mile away, which is a bit of a surprise coming from a filmmaker as idiosyncratic as David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express).

The movie hints at the emptiness of platitudes like “Boston Strong”, but it doesn’t have the dramatic courage to go there. Stronger also flirts with the notion that no matter what major event takes place in our lives, sooner or later we all return to our default settings (in Bouman’s case, once a screw-up, always a screw-up). Predictably, by the third act, all provocative ideas have been co-opted and replaced by easily digestible tropes.

All things considered, you could do worse than this meat-and-potatoes drama with another stellar turn by Tatiana Maslany. But a little courage from the creators would’ve been nice. ❧

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