‘Stronger’: Jake Gyllenhaal in Another Stellar Performance

Jake Gyllenhaal turns in a stellar performance as Jeff Bauman, the Boston Marathon Bombing victim who is associated with "Boston Strong" and who helped identify the bombers.

Jake Gyllenhaal turns in a stellar performance as Jeff Bauman, the Boston Marathon Bombing victim who is associated with “Boston Strong” and who helped identify the bombers.

by Sandra Olmsted

In Stronger, which chronicles the life of Boston bombing victim Jeff Bauman, Jake Gyllenhaal perfectly channels the man with all his flaws and warts. Gyllenhaal also reveals how Jeff finds the heroism within himself while director David Gordon Green thoughtfully explores Jeff’s struggle with unwillingly being called a hero for merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Before being injured by the bombs at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, Jeff Bauman wasn’t exactly boyfriend, employee of the month, or hero material. He frequently stood up his on-again-off-again girlfriend Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany), barely hung on to a minimum wage job, lived off his alcoholic mother Patty Bauman (Miranda Richardson), and generally screwed up everything. Even though he’s far from perfect, Erin is sweet-talked into giving him another chance when he vows to be at the finish line of the Boston Marathon when she crosses it. Erin is a mile away when the bomb explodes and immediately begins searching for Jeff.

Many will remember the photo of Jeff, whose lower legs were stripped to bone, being carried to an ambulance by a man in cowboy hat. Once Erin finds Jeff at the hospital, she must connect with Patty, who doesn’t like her, and Jeff’s extended roughneck family, who view her as a middle-class interloper. Despite the negativity, Erin sticks by Jeff’s side while he is unconscious in the hospital unaware that his legs have been amputated. Even his employer, Costco, keeps Jeff on the company’s insurance to cover his medical costs.

When Jeff regains consciousness, one of the first things he says is that he saw the bomber. The information he provides is instrumental in the capture of the bombers, and Jeff is honored for his “heroism” with ceremonies and other opportunities. Except Jeff doesn’t feel like a hero, perhaps because of survivor’s guilt. He feels like a guy whose slim hopes of a better life have been stripped away.

While he recovers and struggles to adjust to life without legs, the determined Erin becomes his protector and even moves into the tiny, second floor apartment with Jeff and Patty. Meanwhile, his mother wants nothing more than to live vicariously through Jeff’s new-found fame as the embodiment of “Boston Strong.” While family and friends carry formerly footloose and fancy-free Jeff up and down the apartment steps, Jeff, the invalid, slips so far into depression and self-loathing that even Erin wants to give up on him. Then Jeff goes to meet Carlos Arredondo (Carlos Sanz), the man who saved his life, expecting to deliver an obligatory thank you; however, what Carlos says changes Jeff’s life forever. This pivotal scene with Carlos is emblematic of Gyllenhaal’s stunning performance.

Stronger, a Roadside Attractions release, is rated R for language throughout, some graphic injury images, and brief sexuality/nudity. Stronger, which runs a powerful 116 minutes, is in theaters now and well worth seeing.

Jake Gyllenhaal with the Jeff Bauman.

Jake Gyllenhaal with the Jeff Bauman.

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