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Stronger (2017)

Lionsgate
Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/19/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/18/2017

With the 24-hour news cycle world in which we live, where we get news alerts on our phones, we feel as if we know about all of the big stories. And while we are often aware of the headlines, there are usually smaller, more intimate tales within the big stories which escape our view. The shootings, explosions, crashes, and attacks happen to people and most of these individuals don't make it to the headlines. Therefore, it's good that movies like Stronger can go beyond the story-of-the-moment and reveal how real people are effected by tragic events.

Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a working-class guy from Boston who works at Costco. He lives with his mother, Patty (Miranda Richardson), an alcoholic, and he spends times with his friends, who are obsessed with the Red Sox and drinking. Jeff has an on-again/off-again relationship with Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany), and when he learns that she is running in the Boston Marathon, he decides that being there to support her will be a way to win her back again. So, on April 15, 2013, Jeff was waiting at the finish line of the Marathon, when two bombs were detonated. The blasts took Jeff's legs off at the knees, and he was immediately rushed into surgery to complete the amputation. Now, Jeff must not only learn to walk again and endure the spotlight which finds him, but he must learn who he can lean on.

When the Boston Marathon bombing occurred in 2013, the event made the headlines, but the human factor of the victims took a backseat to the manhunt for the bombers. That truly odd series-of-events was fascinating, but it meant that we heard very little about those who were killed or injured in the blasts, at least in the national media. But, for the local Boston news outlets, the story did remain relevant and they continued to follow those effected by the tragedy, most notably Jeff Bauman whose picture was on the front page of the paper and continued to follow Jeff as he made appearances at Boston Bruins and Boston Red Sox games.

Stronger takes us beyond the headlines and pulls back the curtain on Jeff's life. He was a fairly standard Boston guy who worked at Costco and lived for spending time with his friends before the event. As one would imagine, the explosions changed Jeff's life forever. However, the movie doesn't pull any punches in showing how it did not change the lives of those around him. Once Jeff is home from the hospital, Patty continues to be a fall-down drunk, and his friends go back to living in the bar. It's not that they turn their backs on Jeff, it's the only life that they know. And Jeff follows suit in many ways. Director David Gordon Green simply shows these events with no judgment, but we can help but find the whole thing depressing, as Jeff is essentially living two lives -- He makes the public appearances, which are supposed to be all smiles, and then he goes home to the drab apartment he shares with his mom. The one person who does embrace Jeff is Erin, who devotes her life to caring for him. Is it love, or does she feel guilty because she was at the Marathon to support her.

The film also takes an unflinching look at Jeff's injuries and recovery. Using a mixture of special effects makeup and visual effects, Stronger shows us the damage done to Jeff's legs, the aftermath, and his prosthesis. (We learn in the extras that the actual professionals who created Jeff's prosthesis appear in the movie.) The film doesn't turn away as Jeff literally falls on his face, and must learn to walk again. While Gyllenhaal is fine playing the "putting on a brave face" Jeff, it's in these scenes, it's in these scenes where he really shines, as we can truly feel his pain.

So, in short, Stronger is a really depressing movie. Not only do we watch the story of a young man whose life is changed forever, but most of us will also be affected by how those around him behave, despite the fact that Jeff seems to be OK with it. The movie's true strength is that it shows how people truly react in extraordinary situations. In a world of uplifting biopics, Stronger shows that things don't always come up roses and individuals do have to deal with true emotions, and worse, their families. This is not an easy film to watch, and the ending feels a bit rushed, but you will feel like you've truly seen a true story.

Stronger should has been called "You Will Wince a Lot" on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc carries an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, most notably the blues, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture's clarity lends itself to a high level of detail. The depth is notable and works quite well during the marathon scene. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. For a drama, we get a nice variety of audio effects here. The Marathon scene offers good surround sound, as do the hockey and baseball game sequences. The bar scenes also deliver rear-channel action, as well as sounds coming from off-screen in the front channels.

The lone extra on the Stronger is "Faith, Hope & Love: Becoming Stronger" (29 minutes) which is a fairly in-depth making-of featurette. The piece features comments from Gyllenhaal and Green, who discuss the development of the movie and facing the challenge of being a true story to the screen. We also from the cast members who discuss their characters. From there, the piece focuses on the film's production and looks at the locations, the make-up effects, and how certain key scenes were shot. (It's interesting to note that nearly everyone involved except for Maslany appears here.)

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long