- Actors: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Clancy Brown
- Director: David Gordon Green
- Disc Format: AC-3, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
- Language: English
- Subtitles: Spanish
- Region: Region A/1
- Rated: R
- Studio: LIONSGATE
- Release Date: December 19, 2017
- Run Time: 119 minutes
I no longer pay much attention to film’s award season, and Stronger is a perfect example why that is. While the film itself may rarely rise above serviceable to the true-story it is telling, there is something wrong with how award nominations are handed out if none of the actors involved in Stronger were nominated for major awards. Award nominations are more likely to go to a film because of the political message it contains (which explains why Steve Carell would receive nominations for Battle of the Sexes rather than Last Flag Flying) or how much money the studio spent to get it (Wonder Woman broke records for the millions of dollars spent to try and buy nominations), and this is why some of the quieter performances of the year end up passed over. This is not to say that the other nominees are undeserving, but it is shameful that movie without a political message or millions to spend might not get the attention it deserves as a result.
This isn’t a new problem for star Jake Gyllenhaal, who seems to attach himself to award-worthy performances each year, though often within films that are praised only a fraction as much as his acting. On the other hand, this was how critics felt about the Denzel Washington vehicle, Roman J. Israel, Esq., and he still got a few key nominations. Gyllenhaal heads up the cast of Stronger as Jeff Bauman, real-life survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Despite suffering injuries that resulted in the loss of both legs, Jeff was able to identify one of the bombers from his hospital bed and become something of a hero for the city.
In the public’s eye, Bauman quickly became a living embodiment for the idea of “Boston Strong,” but the film makes the wise choice to never idealize the man at the center of the film. John Pollono’s screenplay based on the book written by Bret Witter and Jeff Bauman himself never tries to convince us of his heroism, and refusing to gloss over his flaws simply makes him appear more human. Director David Gordon Green gives us a drama about the real struggles of loss, especially when paired with the false opulence of fame. No matter how many people want to celebrate his heroism and have him doing publicity as a hero, Bauman still must find a way to cope with his own loss.
A large portion of the film is about this struggle, and the tug-of-war played with Bauman by his family over what he should be doing with his life. Miranda Richardson is excellent as his somewhat abrasive mother, insistent upon cashing in on the fame that Bauman’s is receiving, but the real power in the narrative comes from his relationship with on-and-off-again girlfriend, Erin (Tatiana Maslany). Erin was running the marathon and was the reason that Bauman was there that day, which is only one layer to their complex relationship. Although Stronger is about Bauman’s journey through tragedy into instant celebrity, the relationship between him and Erin always remains at the center of the story.
As much time as I spent praising Gyllenhaal at the beginning of this review, it is Maslany I am most disappointed did not receive any nominations. I have never been much of a fan of “Orphan Black,” and the Canadian actress has never impressed me much in the past, but she is clearly the heartbeat of Stronger. Matching Gyllenhaal for every emotional beat in one of the most empathetic performances of the year, there is absolutely no excuse for the lack of award nominations for this astounding performance. I may be a poor substitute for the millions that other films have to promote their performers, but I won’t stop praising Maslany until the last award has been handed out.
The Blu-ray treatment of Stronger is also somewhat disappointing. There is a Digital HD copy included, but not a DVD. There is also only one special feature on the disc, though at least it is rather in-depth. This extra is a behind-the-scenes making-of featurette, which is about 30-minutes long, including interviews with the cast, crew, and the actual people the characters in the film were based on.
Entertainment Value: 7.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 8.5/10
Historical Significance: 7/10
Special Features: 6/10