Always trying to crawl inside himself, Jake Gyllenhaal has become the most fascinating leading man in movies. This is partly due to his choice of roles: He was the unlikely 'eagle scout' investigator of 'Zodiac' and an unhinged neo-Travis Bickle in 'Nightcrawler'. Now Gyllenhaal plays Jeff Bauman, the Bostonian who lost his legs in the 2013 marathon bombing and became an unlikely symbol of citywide resilience.
In its shrewd script by John Pollono (based on Bauman’s memoir), 'Stronger' never lets you forget the reticence of its hero – the 'chicken roaster from Costco,' as he’s called by an acquaintance – who is the first to question his newfound status. Wheeled out like a piece of meat on hockey rinks to cheering crowds, Gyllenhaal’s Bauman is in a constant cringe. This isn’t the positive movie many will want, but it’s something better: a window into post-traumatic stress and exploded identity.
Bauman’s alcoholic mother (Miranda Richardson) and on-again-off-again girlfriend (Tatiana Maslany) are buffeted by the storm of celebrity, but the film belongs to Gyllenhaal, who transitions from a death wish to something approaching civic generosity. It’s a weird and unusually honest film.