4/5 MUST must see SEE
dir David Gordon Green
scr John Pollono
prd Jake Gyllenhaal, David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman, Michel Litvak, Scott Silver
with Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Clancy Brown, Richard Lane Jr, Nate Richman, Danny McCarthy, Carlos Sanz, Frankie Shaw, Lenny Clarke, Patty O'Neil, Kate Fitzgerald
release US 22.Sep.17, UK 8.Dec.17
17/US Lionsgate 1h56
Sypport system: Maslany and Gyllenhaal

gyllenhaal maslany richardson
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Stronger A strikingly earthy approach to this true story eliminates any hint of sentimentality from what easily could have become a swellingly sudsy story of hope and inspiration. Instead, director David Gordon Green has crafted a gritty, honest look at a young man who is forced by a shocking event to grapple with elements of his personality he has long ignored. And by refusing to push the themes, the film is genuinely hopeful and inspirational.

While cheering for his on-off girlfriend Erin (Maslany) at the 2013 Boston Marathon, Jeff Bauman (Gyllenhaal) loses both legs when a terrorist bomb explodes. A cheeky, good-time lad who lives with his mother (Richardson), Jeff only reluctantly accepts the role of the city's symbolic hero. But his working-class family pushes him into the limelight, enjoying the celebrity. As Erin helps him approach therapy and rehabilitation, Jeff slips back into his old ways, drinking excessively with his supportive buddies (Lane and Richman) and bristling against doing too much work toward his recovery.

Green and writer Pollono take such an unexpected approach to this story that it catches the audience off-guard. Refusing to sensationalise either the bombing or Jeff's injuries, the movie's matter-of-fact attitude feels bracingly realistic. There are constant touches that most filmmakers would never have the nerve to include, from painful details to deep character flaws. This is a story about very messy people who are easy to identify with.

Gyllenhaal digs deeply into Jeff's psyche as a lively young slacker who'd rather be drinking with his mates than being a symbol of hope. And he knows he's a loser, which makes his inner journey seriously intense. Maslany delivers a beautifully understated performance that ripples with raw emotion. And Richardson is a stand-out as an uneducated woman who makes bad decisions for reasons she probably doesn't understand. She may be trying to ride her son's coattails, but she's also fiercely protective of him.

Most tellingly, the bombing is a mere background detail to a more profound, provocative exploration of what it takes to face adversity. So this is the polar opposite to Mark Wahlberg's Patriot's Day, and actually has more in common with Ang Lee's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk in its depiction of the collision between post-traumatic stress and the demands of a media-obsessed public. And it's the way the story and characters tap into the audience's personal lives that makes it difficult to shake.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 25.Sep.17

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