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Jake Gyllenhaal plays a flawed real-life hero in ‘Stronger’

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Bauman (played by Gyllenhaal) meets his admirers.
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Three stars

Stronger Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson. Directed by David Gordon Green. Rated R. Opens Friday in select theaters.

Most movies about inspirational triumphs over adversity spend more time on the triumph than the adversity, but David Gordon Green’s Stronger never loses sight of its subject’s struggles, even while he’s being hailed as a hero. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jeff Bauman, who lost his legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and subsequently became a symbol of the city’s resilience. Although based on Bauman’s own memoir, Stronger (written by John Pollono) doesn’t go easy on its main character: Jeff is an irresponsible screwup before his injury, and he remains an irresponsible screwup afterward, even as the movie’s predictable plot arc steers him toward redemption.

That redemption is built not only on his recovery from his injuries (he eventually walks thanks to a pair of prosthetic legs), but also on his relationship with his on-again, off-again girlfriend Erin (Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany), who becomes his biggest source of support. Their journey toward reconciliation is rote and predictable, giving the talented Maslany little to do while Gyllenhaal grunts and rages.

Green, who has directed everything from dopey comedy to political satire to searing drama, trains an unflinching eye on Jeff’s most painful moments, indignities and agonies that another movie might elide via editing. The final act gives Jeff the conveniently uplifting happy ending that the genre warrants, but his journey there is tougher and more honest than usual.

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Josh Bell

Josh Bell is the film editor for Las Vegas Weekly, where he's been writing movie and TV reviews since 2002. ...

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