On April 15, 2013, Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal), a fried chicken cook at the local Costco, went to watch his estranged girlfriend, Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany), run in that year’s ill fated Boston Marathon, as part of the Team Stork/Brigham Women’s Hospital fundraiser.

Bauman, a hit and miss boyfriend at best, eager to mend their broken relationship, went and found a spot near the finish line, where he could hold up his hand-made sign and surprise her.

Erin never saw the sign, and there was a bigger, more deadly surprise in store for them, and Jeff was standing right next to it.

When the Tsarnaev brothers’ bomb went off, hundreds of people around Jeff were injured, three, including a small boy, Martin Richard, were killed. But we’re not watching a movie today about that beautiful boy, Martin, or Jessica Kensky, who also lost both of her legs, or her husband Patrick Downes, who lost his leg, or the two others who died. These victims aren’t even touched on in this film.

We’re watching instead, the story about Jeff Bauman, horribly crippled by a terrorist’s bomb, whom Hollywood and his Boston neighborhood in this powerful film, have chosen as the hero of that day.

Jeff is a lucky man for several reasons, he lived, sadly, without his legs, but he lived. He was lucky too that his girlfriend Erin, whom he constantly mistreated, and who was smarter, better educated and unselfish and giving, stayed with him to see him through.

I’m sure that director David Gordon Green and writer John Pollono knew as they worked on the film, that on a day full of heroes, we must not overlook Erin Hurley, because she stepped into this bucket of blood and misery and almost single handily pulled Jeff up from his nearly fatal depression, while Hollywood and the Boston public were fixated on making him a symbol.

It’s impossible not to see that when we watch Erin giving up her job at Brigham Womens’ Hospital in Boston and moving into the fractious working class Bauman house. In scene after scene, she holds his head, lifts him off and on the toilet, and holds his hand while he vomits from the incredible pain in his stumps. Surely, there’s a heroes’ hall of fame somewhere for wives, mothers and neglected girlfriends.

I cannot stress enough that great credit must be given here to real life Erin, who had broken up with the bumbling, drifting Jeff. Had she not stepped back in, Jeff Bauman truly might now be in the family plot in Chelmsford.

Erin, putting her own life on hold, pulls Jeff out of a tub full of his excrement where he fell asleep, and ministers to him in a myriad ways, while fighting off his jealous mother Patty (a dazzling Miranda Richardson) who walks around in a cloud of cigarette smoke, stumbling along in a Bud Light haze through all of this, half sober and feckless. Miranda’s portrayal is stunning.

Jeff’s life at the time was cluttered with a clown circus of boozy corner boys who lived for beer and Red Sox games, and a blustering, angry and mostly absent father (a terrific Clancy Brown).

Thus Erin Hurley, in one grueling, selfless act after another, emerges for this critic, as no less than a genuine hero, lost, as so many help mates are, in the shadows of celebrity.

Jeff is lucky as well that Jake Gyllenhaal, a very good actor giving a super performance, came along to play him on screen. With a lesser actor than Gyllenhaal “Stronger” might well have wound up as a movie of the week. Perhaps F. Scott Fitzgerald was right when he wrote “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.”

The collection of actors, especially Carlos Sanz who played the important rescuer, are all standouts, but it is Tatiana Maslany’s superb portrayal of Erin Hurley, that lifts “Stronger” to a higher level.

Sean Bobbitt’s camera is impressive, capturing each moment, especially the aftermath of the explosion.

“Stronger” is based on Jeff Bauman’s book of the same title.

J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former film and stage actor.

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