Blu-Ray Review: Stronger (USA, 2018) is a hero’s story that tugs at your heartstrings

Stronger is the second film to be released about the Boston Marathon bombing. While Patriot’s Day focused on the manhunt for the terrorists, Stronger is about the victims of the tragedy and one man’s story in particular. This film is ultimately an inspirational look at a man who was left a double amputee and how he rebuilt his life in the aftermath.

This film is directed by David Gordon Green and is written for the screen by John Pollono. It is actually based on the eponymous book by Jeff Bauman and Bret Witter. Bauman was made famous by the 2013 bombing because he was immortalised in a photograph that was published in the press. He was waiting at the finish line for his on-again, off-again girlfriend and was captured being wheeled away with his damaged legs while being helped by a man in a cowboy hat. His involvement on the day saw him dubbed, “Boston Strong.”

Jake Gyllenhaal does an excellent job of playing Bauman. The character is one who roasts chickens at the local Costco. He’s an immature but affable slacker and a guy who becomes a reluctant hero. This film shows him as a complex and human character. There’s no sugar-coating his condition, instead it gives us a fly-on-the-wall look at the struggles he endured through PTSD, rehabilitation and adjusting to his new life, including some poor decisions he made involving selfishness and nihilism.

Tatiana Maslany also gives a great and vulnerable performance as Bauman’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, Erin Hurley. She selflessly gives up her work in order to care for Bauman and help him through the rehabilitation process. At one point she has a terrible outburst where she voices her frustration at Bauman’s behaviour and his alcoholic and overbearing mother, Patty (Miranda Richardson). Hurley and Patty are both multifaceted characters because you get the sense that they both feel guilt, love and a sense of duty, especially in Hurley’s case. The film finishes on a high note about Hurley and Bauman’s relationship but an internet search reveals that they have subsequently divorced.

This film uses a lot of grey and green tones to reveal the harsh new reality that Bauman and his family have to deal with. This could have made it a grim film where the main character wallows away in self-pity. But thankfully, the story has some lighter moments with Bauman joking that he will be like Forrest Gump’s friend, Lieutenant Dan. There’s also a raucous scene involving Bauman attempting to drive a car while his friend has to hit the accelerator and brake pedals for him.

It turns out that Bauman’s guardian angel AKA the man in the cowboy hat (Carlos Sanz) also has a moving role to play in all of this. He meets up with Bauman and tells the young man about his own loss involving his sons. This makes Bauman appreciate what really matters. The special features on this Blu-ray disc are minimal and include just one behind-the-scenes featurette.

Stronger is an emotionally resonant, factual drama about a tragedy. It’s an insightful look at the aftermath of trauma and the notion of heroism. It opts for a natural and textured feel and in doing so, is ultimately one human story about perseverance that will tug at your heartstrings.

Film Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Special Features Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Stronger is available now on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital release.