Jake Gyllenhaal Is a Reluctant Hero in ‘Stronger’

Stronger” is the inspiring true story of Jeff Bauman, an ordinary man who captured the hearts of his city and the world to become the symbol of hope following the infamous 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Jeff, a 27-year-old working-class Boston man who was at the marathon to try and win back his ex-girlfriend Erin (“Orphan Black’s” Tatiana Maslany). Waiting for her at the finish line when the blast occurs, he loses both his legs in the attack.

After regaining consciousness in the hospital, Jeff is able to help law enforcement identify one of the bombers, but his own battle has just begun. He tackles months of physical and emotional rehabilitation with the unwavering support of Erin and his family, including his mother played -by Oscar-nominee Miranda Richardson. It is Jeff’s deeply personal account of the heroic journey that tests a family’s bond, defines a community’s pride and inspires his inner courage to overcome devastating adversity. Filled with raw emotion, humanity and humor, Stronger is the inspirational real-life story of the man who became the living embodiment of “Boston Strong.”

One day, your life is normal and the next, you’re dealing with life with no legs to stand on. When Jeff feels the pain of the bandages being changed on what’s left of his legs, you feel his pain. After leaving the hospital, the frustration that Jeff feels at attempting to do mundane activities like using the toilet and taking a bath is felt by the audience too. How can you trust yourself when you can’t even trust your own body?

Everyone has felt “less than” in his or her life. We have all come up with reasons why we are unlovable. I’m not rich enough. I’m not successful enough. I’m not good looking enough. Though Erin is steadfast in her devotion to Jeff, he doesn’t think he’s lovable. He left part of his body somewhere and, in turn, his self-respect.

Boston was holding out for a hero after the horrific bombing and Jeff became the reluctant poster boy for the “Boston Strong” slogan. When people recognize and praise Jeff in public, you feel his reluctance. While being honored at a Boston Bruins Stanley Cup game, Jeff feels alienation instead of admiration. After the Bruins game, people come up and tell him how they’ve inspired him. This in turn inspires him. He might not see himself as Hercules, but he’s the Hercules that the city needs to heal.

When Jeff learns that Erin is pregnant, he finally starts to turn his life around. Part of that turnaround involves Carlos Arredondo, the man in the cowboy hat that helped save his life in the iconic AP photo by Charles Krupa. In a sign that Jeff’s spirit is back, he throws out the first pitch of a Boston Red Sox game with Carlos.

Jeff went on to write “Stronger,” the book upon which the eponymous movie is based. It’s not spoiling anything to say the movie has a happy ending. It’s a matter of public record. In the film, as in life, the journey is more important than the destination. Jeff was just a regular guy – a Costco employee who might have drank too much with an on again, off again girlfriend. With deft direction by David Gordon Green and a compelling script by John Pollono, the film is moving without being manipulative. Some films hit you over the head telling you how to feel. With “Stronger” however, the emotions are organic.

“Stronger,” just like 2016’s “Patriot’s Day,” is an outstanding film about that horrific day. “Patriot’s Day,” however, underperformed with audiences and underwhelmed critics. Was “Patriots Day” released too soon for people to embrace it? Recent films dealing with the Middle East and 9/11 have all underperformed, though Oscar-nominee “United 93” was critically embraced.

Hopefully “Stronger” won’t suffer the same fate. The ultimate destination for “Stronger” should be among the Oscar nominees at the Kodak Theatre. With their gut-wrenching performances, Gyllenhaal, Maslany and Richardson deserve Oscar nods as well. Do yourself a favor and see one of the best films of the year. And if you do, do yourself another favor and bring tissues. You will need them.

Stronger” opens in theaters Sept. 22.