Based on a true story about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, this looks like one of those movies that will be unbearably inspirational and patriotic. But thanks to director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express), this is a gritty, honest drama that never dips into sentimentality. It's also a strikingly involving story about a young man who is forced to confront things about himself far beyond his injuries. And that makes it genuinely inspirational.
The man at the centre is Jeff Bauman (Jake Gylenhaal), a happy-go-lucky lad who is cheering his on-again/off-again girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany) at the marathon's finish line. Jeff loses both legs in the explosion, returning home to live with his boozy mother (Miranda Richardson) as he tries to put his life back together. But he feels uneasy that the entire city is celebrating him as a hero. So while his working-class family enjoys the celebrity, Jeff goes quiet. Erin tries to get him to take a more proactive approach to his physiotherapy and get on with his life, but Jeff instead slips back into his old habit of drinking too much with his buddies (Richard Jane Jr. and Nate Richman). And this leaves him without much desire to work toward a full recovery.
Against expectations, the filmmakers refuse to sensationalise either the bombing or Jeff's injuries, instead taking a matter-of-fact approach that feels edgy and authentic. Gyllenhaal plays Jeff as a likeable slacker who knows he's a loser, so can't cope with his status as a symbol of hope. This gives his internal journey some real resonance, and Gyllenhaal gives Jeff a remarkable intensity that's sympathetic even when he's being a jerk. Maslany is also skilfully understated in her pivotal role, while Richardson is the standout as an uneducated woman who makes some very bad decisions but is fiercely protective of her son.
Continue reading: Stronger Review
With its rousing, old-fashioned tone, this fact-based epic is properly thrilling and inspirational, a tale of heroism that almost seems too good to be true. But it's the astonishing story of a real sea rescue carried out by ordinary men who rose to the challenge. It's also expertly directed by Craig Gillespie (Million Dollar Arm) to bring out subtle character detail amid the exhilarating action.
The events took place in a sleepy Massachusetts fishing town in the dead of winter 1952, where Bernie (Chris Pine) is an earnest Coast Guard sailor who has just agreed to marry his strong-willed sweetheart Miriam (Holliday Grainger). Then one night a fierce storm breaks an oil tanker in half just off the coast, and Bernie is sent by his aloof commander Daniel (Eric Bana) to lead a rescue mission. He takes his colleague Richard (Ben Foster) and two young crewmen (Kyle Gallner and John Magaro) with him, heading into the dangerous sea swells. Meanwhile on the tanker's still-floating stern section, engineer Ray (Casey Affleck) becomes the leader of a cantankerous 32-man crew, steering the wreckage toward the relative safety of a shoal. And in these conditions, the odds are in nobody's favour.
Unusually, despite pitch-black conditions with driving rain and swelling seas, the on-screen action is crisp and clear. Gillespie uses vivid effects and clever camerawork to keep the audience right in the thick of things, conveying a vivid sense of scale while detailing the connections between each string of events. And because we understand what's happening and who these people are, the set-pieces are literally breathtaking. This is partially due to the fact that these are normal people who are very easy to identify with, from Pine's inarticulate but tenacious sailor to Affleck's reluctant natural leader. Intriguingly, Grainger's Miriam is the film's feistiest character, a woman who simply can't sit still and wait for news.
Continue reading: The Finest Hours Review
In small-town 1993 Massachusetts, Dickie (Bale) is a crack addict who lives in his own glorious past as a boxer who once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard. But his erratic life is jeopardising the growing career of his half-brother Micky (Wahlberg), who he's training and managing with their tough-as-nails mother (Leo). Micky knows that in order to further his career, he'll need to make a difficult break from his messy family. Then he meets Charlene (Adams), a barmaid who encourages him to go for it. And of course they see her as the villain.
Continue reading: The Fighter Review
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