Review of reviews: Film & Stage
Directed by David Gordon Green (R)
A bombing victim copes with trauma.
The phrase “based on a true story” is too often an excuse for bogus uplift, said Peter Travers in Rolling Stone. Not so with Stronger, a biopic that “sidesteps the pitfalls of the genre in favor of keeping it real, warts and all.” Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Jeff Bauman, a 27-year-old who was stalled in life when he lost his legs during the 2013 Boston Marathon terrorist bombing and became a symbol of the city’s “Boston Strong” resiliency. But the movie focuses on how Bauman can’t make peace with being labeled a hero, and as it tracks his progress along an unpredictable path, it proves “allergic to easy sentimentality.” Gyllenhaal is terrific, but as Bauman’s girlfriend, Erin, Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany is “something special”—the very soul of the movie, said Ty Burr in The Boston Globe. The film soars when it focuses on the loneliness of Bauman’s recovery and how Erin helps him through it, but manufactures conflict by turning Bauman’s family into Boston caricatures. “We’re much more than the sum of our accents and team jerseys.” Still, Stronger “doesn’t make the mistake of assuming that your tears are its natural entitlement,” said Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times. Best of all, it never suggests that his tragedy or his triumph belongs to anyone but himself.
Directed by Doug Liman (R)
A thrill-seeking pilot lives out a renegade’s dream.
Tom Cruise has made a lot of money playing cocksure American action heroes, but “it’s always more revealing watching a control freak losing control,” said Mike McCahill in IndieWire.com. In American Made, Cruise plays a real-life TWA pilot who in the 1970s and ’80s wound up working for both the CIA and Central America’s drug cartels, and whenever the character gets in over his head, he “sweats and panics in ways Jack Reacher wouldn’t countenance.” The movie could be labeled just another aping of the Goodfellas formula—complete with voice-over narration in which the protagonist explains how his misadventures in crime allowed him to swamp his wife with riches, said Peter Bradshaw in TheGuardian.com. Still, “you’d need a heart of stone not to indulge Cruise’s midlife return to Top Gun antics in this flashy, entertaining crime thriller.” Especially because the movie questions the very 1980s ethos that Cruise embodied when Ronald Reagan was president and the hero of this movie was running contraband weapons to Nicaragua’s Contras, said Anthony Lane in The New Yorker. “You can smile your way into trouble, the film suggests, and out of it too, so what will it take, either on the private or national scale, to wipe such confidence away?” This “unquenchably chipper and heartless yarn” makes the case that all of us are still too cocky