Jake Gyllenhaal has shown for over a decade that he has an impeccable ability to choose roles that can highlight his ever-expanding talents. But his latest role could get him his first Oscar nomination since 2006’s “Brokeback Mountain.”
In “Stronger” the actor plays Jeff Bauman, the real-life man who lost both his legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. In the movie, Bauman is a free-spirit Bostonian who, like most in the city, grinds out his days so he can race to cheer on his beloved Red Sox, Bruins, or Patriots (depending on the time of year) at a nearby bar with friends and family. But after the bombing, Bauman suddenly becomes the unlikely face of the “Boston Strong” motto the nation uses to recover. That brings Bauman a level of celebrity he never wanted.
Gyllenhaal plays Bauman in two parts. Before the bombing he’s a free spirit who can sweet-talk anyone to get his way. And when it comes to his ex-girlfriend, Erin (Tatiana Maslany from “Orphan Black”), he lays on the charm big time, even promising her that he’ll be at the finish line to root her on at the marathon – a decision that leads to his horrific injury. Following the bombing, the charismatic smile is gone and Bauman, along with family members, is left trying to navigate a world that can’t get enough of him after he not only survived the blast but also helped the police identify one of the bombers.
For both versions of Bauman, Gyllenhaal goes all-in, delivering a tour-de-force performance that is the heart and soul of the movie. But the secret weapon of “Stronger” is Tatiana Maslany.
As Erin, Maslany plays a woman riddled with guilt as she feels responsible for what happened to Bauman.
Though the horrific event brought them back together, Erin struggles with becoming a part of his close-knit family, especially getting the approval of his often tipsy mother (played by Miranda Richardson). Erin is the person who keeps Bauman driven through his rehab and comforts him during his mental trauma.
It’s her refusal to enable Bauman during his darkest moments that finally makes him realize how vital she is to him and what his life means to others.
Maslany’s performance resembles Amy Adams’ in “The Fighter,” where Adams played an outsider trying to fit in with a dysfunctional family as she fell for the boxer “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg). The role garnered Adams an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. Maslany is worthy of the same attention.
At the helm of “Stronger” is David Gordon Green (“Pineapple Express”), who once more shows he can direct any genre. But he wisely stays in the background, keeping the storytelling by the numbers. He pushes all the much-deserved attention on his stellar cast.
“Stronger” opens in theaters Friday.