Miranda Richardson

Stronger

11/12/17

This film makes an interesting companion piece to Patriots Day, in that both movies cover the same event – the bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon. But where Peter Berg’s offering concentrates on the hunt for the perpetrators of the crime, Stonger opts to focus on one of the bombing’s victims: twenty six year old Jeff Bauman, who had the misfortune to be standing too close to the rucksack that held one of the homemade explosive devices.

When we first encounter him, just days before the bombing, Jeff (Jake Gyllenhaal) has recently split from his girlfriend, Erin (Tatiana Maslany) and is doing everything he can to encourage her to come back to him. When he hears that she is planning to run the Boston Marathon, he dutifully turns up on the day carrying a homemade placard to show his support… and moments later, loses both his legs in the bomb blast. When Erin spots his blood-spattered face on a TV report, she hurries to the hospital, where Jeff’s dysfunctional family, headed by his mother, Patty (an almost unrecognisable Miranda Richardson) are already gathered, waiting for him to come back to consciousness. Erin finds herself inexorably drawn into being his carer/companion, even moving into the little apartment that he shares with his mother – but as his long, slow recovery begins, it’s apparent that Jeff still has a lot of issues to come to terms with; and it doesn’t help that the people of Boston constantly ¬†want to celebrate him as a homegrown hero…

David Gordon Green’s film expertly walks a perilous tightrope. This powerfully affecting story could so easily have descended into pure corn, but the fact that it doesn’t is only one of its many strengths. The script (by John Pollono, based on Jeff Bauman’s book), refuses to turn its lead character into the hero figure that the people of Boston so evidently want him to be. There’s no rose-tinted glasses here. Jeff is presented as a feckless, often selfish individual, with a self-destructive personality – and a similar ‘warts-and-all’ approach is taken with the various family members who weigh in to lend ¬†their support with all the finesse of a herd of stampeding elephants.

Gyllenhall’s performance is superbly affecting (here’s yet another movie which I viewed mostly through a fog of cascading tears), while anyone who has watched her assay multiple roles in Orphan Black will know what to expect from the very talented Maslany. Miranda Richardson’s turn as the boozy, hapless Patty is also beautifully judged. Suffice to say that the various mutterings about the film’s Oscar potential may not be entirely misplaced. But who knows? Oscar can be a notoriously fickle beast.

Stronger is ultimately a film about the process of healing. I loved its honesty and passion and though it keeps its most shocking images for later on in the proceedings, when they do arrive, in a series of brilliantly edited flashbacks, it doesn’t hold back.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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Churchill

11/06/17

Biopics are notoriously hard to bring off successfully. Jonathan Teblitzsky, better known perhaps for his work on Broadchurch, should therefore be heartily congratulated for what he has achieved here, creating a film that not only shows us aspects of an iconic man that we’ve never really witnessed before, but also one that includes several scenes that are genuinely affecting. (Trust me, take some hankies.)

Set in the three days leading up to Operation Overlord, we are shown a Churchill who is being completely marginalised by Eisenhower (John Slattery) and by Montgomery (Julian Wadham), both of whom feel he is hopelessly out of touch and well past his sell-by date. Moreover, we are shown a Churchill who is bitterly opposed to the invasion of France, fearing a repetition of the disastrous events of Gallipoli, which he sanctioned during the First World War.

Brian Cox’s performance in the lead role is extraordinary; more than just an uncanny impersonation, it goes to the heart of the man behind the public image, showing not just the irascible old tyrant we’ve all seen before, but also a man haunted by the ghosts of the thousands of young troops he sent to their deaths. As the long-suffering Clementine, Miranda Richardson provides just the right degree of steely determination, as she manages her difficult husband from the wings, smoothing over his many outbursts, and helping those who have to deal with him get their messages home. One of those maligned is his young secretary, Helen (a touching performance by Ella Purnell), who suffers from his harsh words more than most – and who has more reason than most to be fearful of the outcome of Operation Overlord.

I fully expect to see Cox’s efforts awarded prizes next time these things are handed out – but the film is more than just that remarkable performance.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney