Jake Gyllenhaal is a hardworking actor. He played a U.S. Marshall psychologically scarred by the horrors of war in Jarhead (2005), a code-breaking political cartoonist in Zodiac (2007), a hunky fugitive with a bod to die for in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), an anti-terrorist law enforcer who travels through time in Source Code (2011) and a twisted crime paparazzo in Nightcrawler (2014).
Phew – that sure is an impressive filmography.
Yet, the 36-year-old actor has yet to be recognised with an Oscar. For his performance in 2005’s Brokeback Mountain, he was nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category at the 78th Academy Awards for playing a gay cowboy trapped in a doomed romance (George Clooney took home the prize for Syriana). He has also been nominated for a few British Academy Film Awards (he won the Best Supporting Actor for Brokeback Mountain), Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Would this movie be Gyllenhaal’s ticket to an Academy Award? We sure hope so, because in this biographical drama film directed by David Gordon Green and written by John Pollono, the actor again gives it his all by playing a disabled character determined to pick his life up. Besides, this is the kind of story juries love.
Based on the memoir of the same name by Jeff Bauman and Bret Witter, the film’s protagonist is Bauman, a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing. After losing his legs, he overcomes a series of physical and mental challenges to walk again. The inspiring tale of how a man adjusts to his new circumstances is intimately told, and sentimental viewers may find tears running down their cheeks.
While Peter Berg’s Patriots Day (2016) focused on the unfortunate bombing incident and its subsequent terrorist manhunt, this movie looks at how a man struggles and eventually lives becomes a symbol of strength for his home city of Boston.
Gyllenhaal delivers an engagingly touching performance, and you feel like you are right beside Bauman as he endures one ordeal after another. The filmmakers manage to strike the right balance without making the 119-minute movie a melodrama. There is grittiness to the movie, and it never resorts to convenient schmaltziness to manipulate your senses. The characters swear a lot, reflecting how the working class behaves in Boston. These are personalities who aren’t exactly likeable, but their flaws feel real and true-to-life.
For example, it is obvious that Bauman made a few bad decisions after losing his legs, but it feels authentic to see how he gets his act together after life becomes a mess. It is a down-to-earth portrayal of survival and recovery that the society needs in these complicated times.
Besides Gyllenhaal, his co-stars should be commended for their moving performances as well. Tatiana Maslany (Woman in Gold) is empathetic as Bauman’s girlfriend, Miranda Richardson (Phantom of the Opera) is especially convincing as his tough-talking mother, and Clancy Brown (Warcraft) adds a humane touch as his frequently-absent father.
In its entirety, the movie is a bona fide tale of inspiration that does not ask for viewers’ sympathy. The filmmakers and cast members’ passion to tell a solid, straightforward and honest story of perseverance is evident. It makes you acknowledge the imperfections of life, and how we should overcome them to make ourselves stronger.