An unabashed tearjerker that (mostly) eschewed the typical cliches and tropes of the genre to focus on a strong emotional core that carried the film to cathartic resolution, showcasing a strong and haunting, lived-in performance by Jake Gyllenhaal and a great (and validating) post-Orphan Black turn by Tatiana Maslany. Gyllenhaal might be in the running for a Best Actor nod.
Director David Gorden Green's film ran for almost 2 hours but it did not feel that long. He and writer John Poliono had smartly chosen to have the Boston marathon bombing happen within the first 15 minutes, and with that inciting moment out of the way, Green could focus on the emotional journey of Gyllenhaal's Jeff Bauman. And not only Bauman's journey but also that of the people around him, particularly Maslany's Erin Hurley (his now ex-wife) and his mum, played by a fabulous Miranda Richardson.
The film successfully conveyed a tumult of emotions through not a deluge of words but just the minimal amount of well-chosen and well-toned words that carried weight just by its simplicity and honesty. Together with the strong acting by its cast, and the arresting chemistry between its two leads, these emotions and complex feelings were effectively translated on screen.
The first two acts were its strongest moments, however somewhere between the end of Act Two and mid-way of Act Three, the film started to get saccharine and succumbed to some of the cliches of the genre. But luckily it only dipped its toes and did not get totally submerged and we were only very briefly in maudlin (read: Oscar-baiting) territory.
As mentioned, this film might not have worked as well if it was not for both Gyllenhaal and Maslany. Their chemistry was key to sell the emotional weight of the story, but at the same time not oversell it until it becomes unbelievable. Individually, they were both giving their A-game; but together, they were magnetic and should do more films together.
Gyllenhaal gave another superb performance. It was as haunting and as lived-in as his performance in the overlooked Nightcrawler. Gyllenhaal has consistently been giving great performances, but he had always been sidelined come Oscar time. But with this performance, he should be due for some sort of recognition. He masterfully conveyed the fear, doubts, hesitancy, love, commitment that were required of him. The amazing CGI definitely helped too, but it requires real skills and commitment to act as a bilateral amputee (before the CGI was applied). So kudos to him. The only real fault in his performance was an off-tangent scene at the end of the second act that felt disjointed from the narrative of the story and also from the characterisation of Bauman.
Maslany impresses with her strong performance, especially in the first two acts. In particular, in the first act where she had to carry the emotional weight. However, fans of hers (me included) from Orphan Black will already have known what a terrific actress she is. And hopefully with this role (and her Emmy win), a larger audience will recognise her talents. Although she is the co-lead, but like Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl she might benefit from submitting herself for a Best Supporting Actress, and depending on this year's crop of films, she may or may not have a shot. It is too early to tell.
Richardson also deserved a mention. Her role as the mother may be less showy and meaty, but what she brought to that character was both empathetic and sympathetic.
This was a great film. A strong contender for awards season for Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay, but a Best Picture nod is not unlikely.