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Film reviews: Stronger, The Dinner and Blade Of The Immortal

Fair shake: Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff Bauman in this subtle portrayal of the Boston terror victim PICTURE: REX


Stronger (15)


HOLLYWOOD isn’t exactly short of uplifting, true-life, triumph-against-physical-adversity stories. Traditionally, those involving some kind of gruelling body transformation for the lead actor are viewed as particularly Oscar-friendly. However, this biopic of Jeff Bauman, whose legs were both blown off in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, is not quite the by-numbers ‘inspirational’ Hollywood movie you might expect.

We meet Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) as a duck-and-dive waster who works the chicken rotisserie at Costco and lives with his alcoholic mum (Miranda Richardson as a blowsy lush). He’s a nice enough guy but flaky, so when he tells his on/off ex-girlfriend Eris (a quietly superb Tatiana Maslany) that he’ll come and meet her at the finishing line when she completes the Boston Marathon, she doesn’t hold her breath.

Unfortunately, this is the one time Jeff shows up — and he stands right next to a terrorist bomber. Next thing Jeff knows, he’s in a hospital having had both legs amputated (the CGI is seamless), surrounded by his shouty, larger-than-life ‘Bawston’ family and being called a hero.

Where last year’s Patriots Day, another big-ticket movie about the Boston Marathon bombing, concentrated on the manhunt for the terrorists and action aspects, Stronger is more about Bauman’s rocky road to rehabilitation. The media are swift to dub him the living national embodiment of ‘Boston Strong’ but Bauman struggles with such expectations and his daily life is weighed down by PTSD and new daily indignities.

Director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) goes for grit and procedural realism over gloss and easy solutions. Jeff’s relationship with Erin still has the same flaws as it did before, as does his co-dependent one with boozy mom — the bomb’s blast isn’t a magic wand over their lives.

Gyllenhaal may well get an Oscar nomination for this and deserves to — his every expression is captivating. The film itself is less likely to inspire Academy love — it doesn’t push audience ‘weep’ buttons the way you might secretly want it to but it’s actually all the better for it.

The Verdict

Strong acting all round in this gritty, hope-fuelled film about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing

Less feast more famine with Coogan and Gere

The Dinner (15)


STEVE COOGAN and Richard Gere as brothers? Swallowing that is hard enough — and little slips down easily in this stagey adaptation of Herman Koch’s acclaimed novel.

Two brothers — a successful silver fox congressman (Gere) and an acerbic failing former history teacher (Coogan, with a flawless yet distractingly growly De Niro accent) — have dinner with their wives (Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall) in a super-swanky restaurant in order to tackle the Bad Thing their teenage sons have done.

Echoing Roman Polanski’s Carnage, this cuts into the brutish forces beneath humanity’s civilised veneer. Brittle, stiff and frustratingly chopped about in a restless bid to break free from its claustrophobic setting, The Dinner is a far from satisfying feast, despite its appetising cast. On that front, special mention goes to rising star Charlie Plummer as Coogan’s son, an actor so natural he makes even this self-consciously artificial material palatable.

Samurai spectacular!

Blade Of The Immortal (18)


THE 100th (!) film by Takashi Miike (Ichi The Killer) delivers all that his international fans desire from the legendary Japanese gore master.

Opening in black-and-white in feudal Japan, it sees a highly skilled samurai (Takuya Kimura) cursed with immortality when an old crone slices open his tummy and deposits a wriggle-load of ‘sacred bloodworms’ in his insides. Zoom forward a few decades — and into colour — and his mission, should he choose to accept it, is to help an adolescent girl/wannabe swordswoman (Hana Sugisaki) avenge the death of her parents. Cue oodles of spectacular fights on a flabbergasting scale.

Takashi has lost none of his eye-popping style, blood-soaked energy and madcap wit. This is a groaning sashimi board of slice’n’dice carnage that’s decidedly not for the faint of stomach.

Also out

Brigsby Bear (15)

Whimsical and offbeat US indie about a kidnapped thirtysomething loner (Kyle Mooney), obsessed with a fake kids’ cartoon show, who is forced out into the real world. Mark Hamill and Claire Danes co-star.

Human Flow (12A)

Confrontational Chinese artist Ai Weiwei takes a long, sobering look at the global refugee crisis in this towering documentary.