4 stars

Perhaps a few tissues will make you a little “Stronger” as your emotions surface during this outstanding movie.

David Gordon Green has come a long way since the forgettable “Our Brand is Crisis” to helm one of the best movies of 2017 as focuses on a real-life survivor who survived the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jeff Bauman, a likeable, everyday sort of guy who works at Costco. Tatiana Maslany (television’s “Orphan Black”) is his on-again, off-again girlfriend Erin, who plans to run the marathon. She and Jeff bicker beforehand, and, although he has a tendency not to show up when he says he will, he assures her he will be there to cheer her on.

And so he is, at the finish line with a sign that Erin never sees, because Jeff is critically injured when the bombing occurs. The damage is so severe that surgeons amputate both of his legs above his knees.

Erin stays with Jeff’s family in the hospital waiting room. And, days later, she is there to support Jeff through the agony of having his bandages removed.

Slowly, their bond is strengthened as they wrestle with guilt, Jeff’s physical challenges and what Jeff’s family thinks is best for him. And they need to face a new situation that Jeff can’t understand: To millions of Americans, Jeff now represents “Boston strong.” They’re trying to make a hero out of me,” Jeff says.

Miranda Richardson (“Made in Dagenham”) is Patty, Jeff’s hard-drinking, opinionated mother. She clearly loves her son, but she also wants to manage his life – and that won’t happen as long as Erin is around.

It’s nice to see Clancy Brown in a smaller but integral role as Jeff’s father.

There isn’t an uneven moment in this film. The ensemble all does exemplary work, and there should be Oscar nods to Gyllenhaal, Richardson and Maslany.

Gyllenhaal is riveting as he portrays everyday struggles – there’s a scene in a bathroom that is heart-wrenching. And his innermost struggles to find new meaning to a transformed life are beautifully depicted, particularly when he meets the man who saved his life immediately after the bombing. (Some of his work here reminded me of his lead character in the too-little-seen “Source Code.”)

Although the subject matter is serious, Green never lets the film spiral into melodrama. He wisely times some humorous scenes throughout.

I was moved to tears several times throughout this movie. I think you will be, too. And regardless of where you live, you’ll come out feeling “Boston strong.”


Film critic/reporter since 1985 at Quad-City Times. Broadcast Film Critics Association member. College instructor for criminal justice, English and math. Serves on Safer Foundation and The Salvation Army advisory boards. Member of St. Mark Lutheran Church