Stronger ***

Moving drama stars Jake Gyllenhaal as an amputee after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Is it worth $10? Yes

Sometimes heroes emerge from the unlikeliest, and least desirable, of places. Bostonian Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) works in the Costco meat department. He’s a man child of 28 years who’s obsessed with the Red Sox and beer, but can’t bring himself to commit to on-again, off-again girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany).

It’s April 15, 2013. Jeff attends the Boston Marathon to cheer for Erin at the finish line. Two bombs are detonated. He loses both legs from just above the knee.

What follows, as chronicled in “Stronger,” is a heartfelt and nicely acted tale of a man who never wanted to be a role model, but nonetheless finds himself an inspiration to countless others. It’s a responsibility he embraces reluctantly, and only after he matures enough to understand what he comes to represent.

The crux of director David Gordon Green’s (“Snow Angels”) film follows Jeff’s transition from unthinkable hardship to self-pity to a symbol of hope. By the end he is the embodiment of the “Boston Strong” mantra that became commonplace following the attack. In fact, John Pollano’s script is based on a book by the real Bauman and Bret Witter, and it’s a surprise to see just how candid the film is in depicting Bauman’s struggles. It’s one thing for his apartment complex to inexplicably not have an elevator. It’s another to see Jeff passed out in the shower covered in his own feces.

Smartly, Green also exposes the affect Jeff’s injury has on his friends and loved ones, especially Erin and his mother, Patty (Miranda Richardson). In one heart wrenching scene Erin and Patty get into an argument after Jeff’s physical therapy session, and their pain feels both expected and real. It’s not just that Jeff needs help, it’s also a question of the best way to provide that help. Erin, no doubt feeling guilty because he was at the marathon to cheer her on, is more caring and catering, whereas his mother and others show the “tough love” Jeff expects. The byproduct of this is Jeff being hesitant to show weakness – to his girl or his family – which makes the situation even more difficult to bear.

Gyllenhaal is fantastic here. We immediately like and sympathize with Jeff: We know he has flaws, but can tell from the start that he’s a good, honest soul, and this purity is endearing. Reports suggest the real Bauman has a playful sense of humor – exemplified in the film by Jeff writing “Lt. Dan” (think “Forrest Gump”) on a piece of paper after he wakes up in the hospital – and that humor makes him more relatable. Credit also goes to Maslany, who more than holds her own opposite Gyllenhaal and adds valuable heart to the narrative.

“Stronger” is a nice movie, but it tells an even better story. See it because Gyllenhaal is a wonderful actor who continues to impress in everything he does, and because it’s a reminder that heroes can come from the most unlikely, and unwanted, of places.

Did you know?
If you haven't seen Jake and Jeff interview one another, it's hilarious! Check it out here.

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