Film Reviews
Photo courtesy of Amazon MGM Studios

Sports movies comprise their own genre of films, and, among them, the underdog story is often the most entertaining and the most rabble rousing. Think “Seabiscuit,” “Cool Runnings,” “Hoosiers,” and “Rocky.” Now add “The Boys in the Boat,” director George Clooney’s dramatization of Daniel James Brown’s 2013 nonfiction book of the same title.

The well-known, true, inspirational story recounts the triumph of eight young men and their coxswain rowing for the University of Washington in the 1930s Depression Era. Each man had a hard luck story, and all had to endure demanding workouts to earn their desperately needed places in the boat. In seamless unity, they then had to defeat the senior rowers, wealthy, experienced university teams, and, eventually, the best in the world at the 1936 Nazi Olympics.

The story focuses on Joe Rantz, a young man abandoned by his father and living a hard scrabble life at fourteen. But as perceptive coach Al Ulbrickson discovers, several have holes in their shoes plugged with newspapers. Also critically important, savvy, experienced George Pocock designed a sleek shell, coxswain Bobby knew when to push to elicit the eight’s herculean efforts, and Don Hume, in the strokes seat (setting the pace) adds moments of human fallibility. What may well be lost today is how incredibly important and popular rowing was, how much it mattered. Thousands flocked to the lakes to watch, a train moved alongside the boats during competition (seen briefly in the film), and an estimated three hundred million radios tuned in to the Berlin competition.

Alexandre Desplat’s music insists viewers FEEL the thrills, browbeating the emotional registers. The reaction shots become numbing, despite the good performances of Callum Turner as Rantz, Joel Edgerton as Coach Ulbrickson, Luke Slattery as the animated coxswain, and Peter Guinness as Pocock, designer of the hand-made shell.

As someone who rowed one summer, loved it, and appreciated the daunting physical coordination required, I sorely missed the exquisite, challenging, technical details that deserve attention, more than the sappy romance punctuating events throughout the film. And yet, as with so many formulaic, underdog triumphs, occasionally “The Boys in the Boat” evokes earned, mushy responses. Director Clooney says that the “film reminds us that we’re all in this together.” Indeed, though exactly how these spectacular athletes meshed, bonded, and synchronized their elegant rowing still awaits for “The Boys in the Boat.”

Related Articles

Sign Up for KDHX Airwaves newsletter