Stronger


Love makes us stronger.

(2017) Biographical Drama (Roadside Attractions) Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Richard Lane Jr., Nate Richman, Lenny Clarke, Patricia O’Neil, Clancy Brown, Katherine Fitzgerald, Danny McCarthy, Frankie Shaw, Carlos Sanz, Michelle Forziati, Sean McGuirk, Karen Scalia, Judith McIntyre, Dr. Jeffrey Kalish, Cassandra Cato Louis, Rena Maliszewski. Directed by David Gordon Green

 

In the aftermath of tragedy, it is perhaps the glory of humanity that we rise up and overcome. Even the most horrific of circumstances can bring out our resilience to an almost miraculous degree. It is in these situations that we as a species ten to show the most grace.

Jeff Bauman (Gyllenhaal) is a working class guy from Chelmsford who lives and breathes Boston sports, carves roast chicken at a local Costco and hangs out with his friends after work. There is the matter of a girl, Erin Hurley (Maslany) whom Jeff is absolutely crazy about but he always seems to find a way to mess it up. She justifiably complains that he never shows up; he promises that this time, he will.

This time is at the Boston Marathon in which she is running; he promises to show up, awaiting her at the finish line with a goofy sign. Well, this time he shows up and happens to be standing right next to one of the homemade bombs that went off at the 2013 Marathon. Both his legs are blown off by the blast. When he wakes up in the hospital and is informed about the extent of his injuries, he cracks a joke about being Lt. Dan from Forrest Gump.

He is unprepared for the public adulation that comes from being a survivor. An iconic photo of him being cared for by an unknown man in a cowboy hat (Sanz) has made him a celebrity. His blowzy mom (Richardson) is all about using his new-found fame to his advantage. Erin, overwhelmed by guilt, reconnects with him and becomes nurse and lover.

But Jeff is not the most mature of men to begin with and he self-medicates as the pressures of fame and the pain of physical therapy begin to become unbearable. He has become a symbol but he doesn’t want to be one; he is not interested in offering hope to the people of Boston and his old habits that tore him and Erin apart initially begin to resurface.

David Gordon Green is one of those directors who seem to have a loyal hardcore following but rarely gets the recognition he deserves. This is probably his most commercial film yet (which considering that one of his movies is The Pineapple Express is saying something) and certainly his most accessible.

He pushes all the right buttons here but admirably doesn’t make the film as cliché-ridden as it might be. He keeps things low-key and realistic. Bauman is far from heroic for most of this although by the end of the movie he seems to be accepting his role and begins to use it in a positive way.

Gyllenhaal is at the center of the film. He has become a regular contender for Oscar gold and this performance might very well put him in the mix again this year. He makes Jeff very human, very vulnerable and very flawed and yet charming enough with just enough heart o’ gold kinda stuff that we root for him even as his drunken antics and commitment phobia make us clench our collective teeth. One must also point out that the CGI that renders Gyllenhaal as legless is some of the most seamless and well done I’ve seen.

Maslany has been acclaimed for her performances in Orphan Black, shows that she has the chops to become a serious movie actress. She is much more low-key than Gyllenhaal here but she is really the heart and soul of the film. She is wracked by guilt, knowing if not for her that Jeff wouldn’t have been in harm’s way that Patriot’s Day. She recognizes that deep down Jeff has a good soul but he is also weak and this kind of burden doesn’t necessarily bode well for the future of a relationship but as long as he is trying, she knows she must hang in there for him.

The supporting cast is pretty strong as well, with particular kudos to British actress Richardson as Jeff’s overbearing mom and veteran character actor Clancy Brown as his estranged Dad. They are a bit New England Working Class typecast, but not knowing Bauman’s family at all I have to think that there is at least a germ of truth in there at least.

This isn’t always an easy film to watch. The movie doesn’t really dwell on the crime so much as the recovery and that’s a good thing – you can always watch Patriots Day if you are more interested in the hunt for the bombers. Still, the filmmakers pull no punches. We don’t get treated to endless scenes of agonizing physical therapy but more Bauman’s reaction to it. He becomes depressed and frightened of the staggering unwanted responsibilities he is forced to face. And he turns away from it, until he finally agrees – reluctantly I might add – to meet the angel of mercy who helped him on the worst day of his life.

Bauman doesn’t change overnight although it’s pretty close. There is certainly a turning point and it seems that Bauman makes a decision to live and be the kind of man he always had the potential to be. While I might question the night and day presentation of Bauman’s change of heart, there’s no doubt judged by his activities of late that there was one – a determination to become better. That’s what true strength is.

REASONS TO GO: Gyllenhaal could have an outside shot at an Oscar nomination. The CGI is absolutely perfect. The film is emotionally gritty and cathartic. The portrayal of Jeff Bauman pulls no punches.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie is occasionally guilty of being a bit manipulative.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of profanity, some disturbing images of carnage, violence, sex and nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The release date for the film comes on co-star Tatiana Maslany’s 32nd birthday.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/24/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Marathon: The Patriot’s Day Bombing
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
TBA

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Thar She Blows


Some of you may be aware that I’m based in the Orlando area. Starting later on tonight, we’ll be experiencing the leading edges of Hurricane Irma, the largest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic. While we are understandably nervous about the oncoming threat, do be aware that we are well inland and won’t receive the kind of devastation that they are predicting for the coast.

However, there will certainly be plenty of wind and rain and likely a loss of power. How long we’ll be without electricity is anyone’s guess; could be a matter of hours or days. Cinema365 will for that reason be offline for a bit but rest assured we will be back. However, it will only be for a short time; if everything goes as planned, I’ll be leaving on Sunday the 17th for a 12 day vacation, returning on the 29th. Regular publication will resume on the 30th. However, I will try to get out a review for Stronger on or about the 22nd. Otherwise, it will be an interesting couple of weeks. Those who are also in harm’s way of Irma, particularly those on the coast and those who have already been devastated by Harvey over in Texas, you are in our prayers as are those who may be affected by other storms as well as wildfires in the Northwest, flooding in Asia and other disasters that seem to be coming at us one after another. Hopefully we’ll be back shortly to provide you with a relief from this kind of news and take your mind off of things with talk of movies both big and small. Take care, all.

Pick of the Litter – September 2017


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

It

(Warner brothers) Bill Skarsgård, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Javier Botet. Stephen King’s creepy novel about a killer clown terrorizing a group of Maine boys and years later, the same boys as men was famously a television miniseries with the great Tim Curry as Pennywise. Now, the book is a movie with an all-new cast and an all-new Pennywise. Children are disappearing in the town of Derry and a creepy clown haunts the woods and sewers of the town, but Pennywise is much more than he seems and the danger even worse. Beware the deadlights! September 8

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Animal Crackers

(Arclight/Blue Dream) Starring the voices of John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Danny DeVito, Sylvester Stallone. A young family man has the horrible job of taste testing dog biscuits. When he inherits a rundown circus, he discovers the secret to the circus’ past success – a box of magic animal crackers that allows him to turn into any animal in the box and then back to human again. However, he must contend with an evil uncle who wants the circus for himself. The trailer looked awfully cute and heartwarming; this might be a sleeper family hit. September 1

Dolores

(PBS) Dolores Huerta, Cesar Chavez, Hilary Clinton, Robert Kennedy. One of the most successful labor movements in American history was the United Farm Workers, which radically improved working conditions for the mainly Hispanic farm workers of California. Although most associate Cesar Chavez with the movement, the heart and soul of the UFW was truly Dolores Huerta. A firebrand of a leader and an indomitable advocate for those she represented, her contributions are largely unsung due to her being a woman but this documentary aims to rectify that oversight. September 1

 Man in Red Bandana

(Verdi) Gwyneth Paltrow (narrator), Barack Obama. This time of year usually brings back memories of one of the worst days in American history and of course movies about that day – September 11, 2001. There are so many stories about heroism in the face of unspeakable horror but few are as unforgettable as that of Welles Remy Crowther, a young man in a red bandana who saved ten people (at least) at the World Trade Center that terrible day. September 8

School Life

(Magnolia) Neasa Ní Chianáin, David Rane. Education is important and despite attacks on the institutions of education from all sides, there remain places where it is taken seriously. In England, a boarding school in a converted manor has taken a rock and roll attitude towards learning, giving students more of a say in what they learn. With two long-time teachers at the school retiring, we get an inside look at the joys of growing up, learning and being inspired. September 8

The Force

(Kino Lorber) Juan Carlos Zapala, Libby Schaaf. This timely documentary explores an embattled urban police force from the inside out. The Oakland (California) Police Department has a legacy of corruption and police brutality that it struggles to deal with on a daily basis. With the citizens of Oakland growing increasingly frustrated over the dysfunctional relationship between the cops and the African-American community and with pressure mounting from above to fix it, the OPD tries to make real changes from within while keeping the safety of both cops and civilians uppermost in mind. September 15

Loving Vincent

(Good Deed) Starring the voices of Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCrory, Chris O’Dowd, Robert Gulaczyk. Ten years in the making, this is the first film to be fully animated using oil paintings on canvas as the medium. The story revolves around the mysterious death of master Post-Impressionist Vincent Van Gogh; was it suicide or was it murder? A young man charged to deliver a letter from the recently deceased painter to his brother Theo discovers that Theo has also died and becomes determined to understand the painter, his works and his death. September 22

Stronger

(Roadside Attractions) Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Clancy Brown, Miranda Richardson. The latest from director David Gordon Green examines the true story of Jeff Bauman, an ordinary man thrust into an extraordinary situation when both his legs were blown off during the Boston Marathon bombing. There only to win back his girlfriend, he battled back to become a symbol of hope that inspired the entire city but it was no easy path to get there. September 22

Lucky

(Magnolia) Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Tom Skeritt, Ed Begley Jr. A 90 year old atheist, reaching the last days of his life, goes on a journey to try and discover the meaning his life has had amidst an odd collection of eccentrics in a desert town. Stanton, one of the legends of cinema, may very well be on his way to a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance here. September 29