Jake Gyllenhaal is Oscar worthy in “Stronger”

For the last few years, it has almost felt like a waiting game with Jake Gyllenhaal and the Academy. He has an Oscar nomination, but has been snubbed a few times since then, most notably for Nightcrawler. On Friday, Gyllenhaal turns in one of his very best and most awards friendly performances yet with Stronger, a biopic that manages to subvert the expectations of the genre. Films too often become standard issue when dealing with this sort of subject, but that’s not the case here. It’s damn near perfect and, at least in this writer’s humble opinion, 2017’s best movie to date. It’s a triumph.

The movie is a biopic of Jeff Bauman (Gyllenhaal), one of the many affected by the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. He’s a lovable schlub, someone who his on again off again girlfriend Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany) adores but can’t rely on. She’s running in the marathon, and in a bid to win her back this time, Jeff is going to have a sign at the finish line for her. Erin says he never shows up for anything, but this time he does. When the bombs go off, Erin is safe, though Jeff loses his legs. Having seen one of the bombers, Jeff tips off the FBI and becomes a media sensation, something his mother Patty (Miranda Richardson) embraces. Erin returns to Jeff, but it won’t be an easy happily ever after for this couple. David Gordon Green directs the adaptation of Bauman’s memoir, with the script being by John Pollono. The supporting players here include Clancy Brown, Lenny Clarke, Kate Fitzgerald, Richard Lane Jr., Patty O’Neil, Nate Richman, Carlos Sanz, Frankie Shaw, and more. Michael Brook composed the score, while excellent cinematography is provided by Sean Bobbitt.

In a film that does every single thing right, easily the best decision the production made was to cast Gyllenhaal and Maslany in the lead roles. The former is heartbreaking but imperfect in such a compelling way, while the latter is the script weapon of Stronger. She’s emotional strength and resiliency, while he’s the everyman brought low by tragedy. Green shoots the picture brilliantly too, with soft focus and close ups to really make you feel the emotion of it all. Trust me, you will cry. The thing is, it’s all earned. Every single tear. That’s truly what sets this one apart from the pack.

Here is how I would rank Gyllenhaal’s ten best performances so far:

10. Jarhead
9. Demolition
8. The Good Girl
7. Love and Other Drugs
6. Southpaw
5. End of Watch
4. Brokeback Mountain
3. Prisoners
2. Stronger
1. Nightcrawler

Honorable Mentions: Brothers, Donnie Darko, Enemy, Source Code, and Zodiac

Here also is how I would rank Green’s filmography to date:

12. The Sitter
11. Your Highness
10. Manglehorn
9. Undertow
8. Our Brand is Crisis
7. Prince Avalanche
6. Joe
5. George Washington
4. Snow Angels
3. Pineapple Express
2. Stronger
1. All the Real Girls

Oscar wise, Stronger could very well be a player, especially if it can be a commercial success, as well as a critical one. Look for a campaign to be launched, focusing in on Best Picture, Best Director (for Green), Best Actor (for Gyllenhaal), Best Actress (for Maslany), Best Supporting Actress (for Richardson), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Pollono), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score. Gyllenhaal in Actor is clearly the film’s best play, with Maslany and/or Richardson potentially coming along for the ride as well. The hope is just that this one doesn’t fall through the cracks. We shall see, but this movie deserves to be seen and fully embraced.

Starting tomorrow, audiences are in for a moving treat when Stronger hits theaters. If you’re a Gyllenhaal fan, you’re in for one of his best performances. If you’re big on Maslany, she’s about to break through on the big screen, that’s almost assured of. Biopic fans should appreciate how different this is, while even fans of Green’s more indie work can get on board with this. It offers something for almost everyone, and will probably make you cry in the process. For my money, it’s the best film of the year so far. Take that into account and give this one a shot. It’s a special movie and potentially an Oscar player…

Be sure to check out Stronger, beginning its theatrical run this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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