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Stronger Review

27 Sep

Finally. Finally a biopic that doesn’t treat its story beats like attention grabbing headlines. Finally a camera willing to linger in the right moments without reveling in or dismissing pain. Finally a “true story” film that recognizes that themes like strength, perseverance, and even patriotism can absolutely be expressed through personal, intimate human moments. I’m not saying Stronger is a pioneer in those areas, but I’ve been conditioned to expect a certain type of film with these biopics, i.e. a sanitized, rushed, and ultimately dismissive Greatest Hits reel that does a disservice to real life struggles. Thankfully, that’s not what we get here.

What we get instead are powerhouse performances from two of the best actors alive. Between Nightcrawler and Orphan Black alone, Gyllenhaal and Maslany have helped define their generation of acting. Think I’m being hyperbolic? Then you haven’t seen Nightcrawler or Orphan Black. We all know how good Gyllenhaal is, but I beg you to watch Orphan Black if you haven’t already. It’s a performance unlike any I have ever seen before, a tour de force of versatility, comedy, and emotional depth. Maslany brings that depth to her character in this film, breaking your heart with one simple change in expression as she attempt to hold it all together. It’s a beautiful two-hander with Gyllenhaal, who paints a simple yet stunning portrait of a man adapting, persevering, struggling, and surviving.

The second half is less compelling than the first, and the story hits all the expected beats later on as it moves into inspirational conventionality. There are some wonderful scenes in that second half courtesy of Gyllenhaal and Maslany–and its portrayal of PTSD is quite refreshing compared to other films–but nothing in my opinion compares to the harrowing nature of the early sequences set in the hospital. The confusion, the worry, and the endless waiting are all captured perfectly here. The best moment occurs when Bauman needs to get the bandages on what’s left of his legs removed. Green shoots Gyllenhaal and Maslany in a two shot, every emotion on their faces clearly visible even though they’re at the edges of the frame. In between them, we can see the bandages being unwrapped, a seemingly endless process that the camera never shies away from. The shot is a bit hazy at times to reflect Bauman’s pain, but it’s clear when it needs to be: when it asks us to look at these two people and recognize that though they’re going through a certain type of hell, they’ll be able to make it through.

B+

Shook Gyllenhaal’s hand and talked to him after a Q&A. He was great.

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8 Responses to “Stronger Review”

  1. Cindy Bruchman September 27, 2017 at 1:19 pm #

    What a finely written review. I agree I am disenchanted with the sanitized, rushed through, greatest hits versions we usually see. You shook his hand??? WOW!

    • Cindy Bruchman October 4, 2017 at 8:29 am #

      Any chance you’d be game to co-host with me on the 13th of October or November? I’m thinking of a Venn diagram of Jake G. and Joaquin Phoenix. You could focus on Jake and I’ll focus on Joaquin. Interested? Email me at cbruchman@yahoo.com

      • polarbears16 October 5, 2017 at 1:19 pm #

        I would love to, but I have a ton on my plate this month! Perhaps something in November?

      • Cindy Bruchman October 5, 2017 at 2:24 pm #

        Sure! How about that topic in November? Let’s check back with each other toward the end of October and see how you feel about it.
        No pressure.

      • polarbears16 October 7, 2017 at 10:01 am #

        Sure thing.

  2. Ricardo September 27, 2017 at 9:12 pm #

    What the heck, do you work in the industry or something polarbears16.
    All this Q&As!

  3. MovieManJackson September 29, 2017 at 8:12 pm #

    The cinematography and directorial work is really underrated in this. Not award nom level, but something that absolutely aids to the movie. Little things. Very much found this moving.

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