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By midlandsmovies, Dec 12 2018 12:00PM

Stronger (2018) Dir. David Gordon Green

David Gordon Green has a varied CV with misfiring comedies Pineapple Express and Your Highness sitting with more dramatic fare like 2013’s Joe with Nicholas Cage. My recommendation is to avoid comedy, Sir, for your more serious takes a far better.

Like Joe, we get a great central performance, this time from Jake Gyllenhall. Here he plays Jeff Bauman who in real life lost both his legs during the terrorist bombing of the Boston Marathon. Unlike Patriot Day, a film which I hugely enjoyed (see review here), the film avoids the police investigation into the perpetrators and focuses on one of the victims maimed on that fateful day.

Adjusting to his new life, Gyllenhaal gives an unbelievably good performance as man plagued by demons and alcoholism but injects enough vulnerability that the audience sympathise with him given the difficulties he faces. Surprisingly there’s a fair amount of comedy had here too. Bauman is shown to make light of his injury at times and there is a dark sub-plot of exploitation of the media which fleshed out the background to his journey.

The film also doesn’t scrimp on the awfulness of the injuries – with blood, limbs and body parts strewn in the bombing recreation flashbacks - and a scene where Bauman has his bandages removed for the first time may be one of the hardest things to watch in 2018.

Dealing with the subject sensitively, yet exploring the trauma and frustrations of the aftermath, Stronger has a fine support cast with Tatiana Maslany as Jeff's girlfriend and Miranda Richardson as Jeff's mother. Carlos Sanz as Carlos Arredondo – the man who saved Jeff at the scene gives a brief but powerful turn as well.

Although Stronger isn’t a game changer, it provides a fascinating insight into the rehabilitation process and shows an audience how difficult it is to deal with both physical and mental scars – all grounded by Gyllenhaal’s mesmerising central role.


Mike Sales

By midlandsmovies, Jan 18 2017 04:25PM

Patriots Day (2017) Dir. Peter Berg

This new film from Peter “Battleship” Berg is a real-life drama about the Boston Marathon bombers and the horrific after effects of their actions on the lives of regular folk in the historic city.

Set in 2013, and only 4 years old, the film has the slight problem of perhaps not allowing enough time to pass to really reflect on that incident and emotions generated. However, like 2016’s “Sully”, the selling point does seem to be “do you remember this?” which is a bit crass but not unheard of in this day and age.

Beginning with true-to-life and mundane scenes of regular Bostonians, the film’s lead is Mark Wahlberg (from Berg’s previous Deepwater Horizon and Lone Survivor) as Police Department Sergeant Tommy Saunders. This fictional character helps centre the film but dents the film’s credentials as an objective look at the events of that horrendous day. That said, it did not bother me as much as the Paul Greengrass-style school of shooting, although the camera is slightly less wobbly and much more in focus than his Bourne Supremacy.

The everyday lives are intercut with the marathon preparations as well as glimpses of brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the perpetrators of the crime. The younger brother is played brilliantly by Alex Wolff whose almost disinterest in the bombing is contrasted with his elder brother’s ruthless jihadi plans.

The doubts of the younger brother are edited with an early focus on the recurring theme of disability – blades can be observed on amputee runners on the start line and Wahlberg’s own cop is going through his own rehabilitation.

Alongside this we see wheelchair racers crossing the finish line whilst day-to-day cops are playing violent video games in their downtime. The calm is suddenly broken by the two bombs and the film kicks up a gear as the realisation that this is a terrorist incident begins to dawn on the cops. The music had a Hans Zimmer-Dark Knight vibe which gave an eerie sense of dread from composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Like The Dark Knight, cityscape shots are used to show how Boston became its own character as the events unfolded and a manhunt gets underway to track the brothers through the dimly lit streets.

Kudos should go to the production team whose recreations are so realistic I struggled to tell the real footage from the recreated moments. Different film stock, handheld cameras and fictional TV footage are seamlessly placed amongst real life photos and interviews. This realism hits home with hospital scenes of gruesome amputations showing the destruction the bombers inflicted. As well as the physical, we also experience the emotional toil as families deal with loss and the film’s focus on the regular people of Boston was definitely one of its key strengths.

Kevin Bacon as a Special Agent in the FBI's Boston field office brings some structure to the chaotic proceedings as his team use a warehouse recreation of the street – with added bloodied clothing – to act as a physical manifestation of the investigation.

The procedure of backtracking through the CCTV is skilfully adapted for the screen and helps keep the interest high despite most viewers already knowing the outcome. As the net closes in on the brothers, Patriot’s Day sadly veers slightly towards the standard Hollywood action genre in its finale with gun shootouts. Filmed again like a Bourne or a Bond, the camera is positioned “inside” the action and subsequently loses some of the credibility already built up.

The conclusion is as expected given the press coverage people may already be aware of and again, like “Sully”, there are interviews with the real life victims at the film’s ending. Unlike Sully though, the home movie footage showing the victims running the Boston marathon on leg-blades brought tears to my eyes. A fitting tribute to the spirit of Boston’s residents not letting anything, or anyone stop them.

Wahlberg, who has appeared in a lot of these recent topical films, is suited for the fictional Sgt. “Joe Everyman” but is mostly just ok. Kevin Bacon and John Goodman however bring their usual high quality to support roles, and JK Simmons isn’t utilised nearly enough, but the acting is impressive overall. I didn’t think the film was crass or exploitative per se – the film changes what it needs to work as a film – and the recreations reminded me of Oliver Stone’s JFK more than anything else. Which given how big a fan I am of that film is high praise.

It's pretty superficial when it comes to the background of the killers but if you’re interested in modern history without a full in-depth essay on the political arguments then Patriot’s Day is a fantastic dramatic retelling. It avoids glamorising the brothers and spends its time showing how people pull together and overcome a crisis in their community and it’s done with flair and a healthy respect for the Boston people it represents.


Midlands Movies Mike

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