Roadside Attractions 1 hour 56 minutes R Reviewed September 22, 2017
This film about the Boston Marathon bombing is stronger than Mark Wahlberg’s turn in Patriots Day. It’s the same subject, but told from a much more personal perspective. Jeff Bauman lost his legs in the blast as he was cheering on his ex-girlfriend, Erin. He was trying to win her back. Emmy award winning Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) plays restrained and conflicted as the girlfriend feeling guilty because she was the reason he was there. His journey back and their love posed enormous challenges for Jake Gyllenhaal as well.
Bauman was also was able to identify the bomber which made him a hero in the eyes of Bostonians and beyond. But Bauman refuses that title calling himself just a survivor. Based on the book written by Bauman and Bret Witter, this film, as handled by Director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) and Writer John Pollono (This is Us actor), shows, without glorification, every painful step of what Bauman had to go through, physically and psychologically, to keep going.
Actor Jake Gyllenhaal remembers that front page photo of Jeff Bauman being carried off at the bombing site but never thought their paths would cross. The actor spent a lot of time with Bauman to observe him in therapy, with his family, how he walks on prosthetics, even down to how eats with his fork. Bauman has a quirky and childish sense of humor, but that still didn’t keep Gyllenhaal from being totally intimidated about the seriousness of the story. Both learned that even when you think you can’t go on, you can.
The scenes showing the agony dealing with physical and emotional pain as he’s trying to literally get back on two feet will make you cringe. And what the actor had to do to emulate Bauman must’ve been painful, too! They used prosthetics, had him stand in holes in the floor, or wear green socks for green screen special effects to make him appear without legs. Other times, he had his knees bent back under him in a padded wheel chair to give the same effect. Bauman says the filmmakers captured it so realistically that when he saw the scene when he first wakes up in the hospital and Erin is crying, it really brought back that pain.
Director Green used a lot of out-of-focus, rack focus and overhead shots to enhance the chaos at the bombing and in the hospital. He also uses it to show Bauman when disoriented or confused. You see what he saw, which makes it more personal. And it’s definitely scary when he gets drunk with his buddies and decides he’s going to take the wheel of the car having his friend push the gas and brake with his hands for a wild ride. It was a good action scene to break up the seriousness of his rehab and the strained love story.
The cast playing Bauman’s family is rough and tumble Boston all the way, accent and all. Surprisingly, the one who does it best is English actress, Miranda Richardson, who plays Bauman’s firecracker Mama, Patty. She swears like a truck driver and smokes like a chimney. Patty’s a real piece of work devoted to her son but still on his case for his faults. Of all the actors, Richardson has the Boston accent down. Gyllenhaal’s Boston accent kind of goes in and out. Maslany says the real Erin doesn’t have as much of an accent so it wasn’t a factor for her.
But Maslany had to train to do a lot of running for this film because Erin is a true athlete. Maslany’s favorite scene was turning the corner onto Boyston Street and seeing all the extras so dedicated and committed cheering her on Boston Strong. Bauman became such a symbol for that. You see Gyllenhaal in massive scenes shot at Fenway throwing out the first ball and on the ice in a wheel chair at the Bruins arena. And the backstory after meeting the man in the cowboy hat who saved him at the Marathon is a nice touch handled sensitively by Green and Pollon.
This is a movie about a regular guy who happened to be at the right place at the wrong time. Writer Pollon doesn’t sugar coat who he is or the story of his getting back on his feet again, nor the love story or the love/hate relationships within his family. It’s a good film with many layers about someone like you and me who worked hard learning that when you think you can’t, you can.