Monday, December 25, 2023

The Boys in the Boat

As director, George Clooney has tackled period pieces before (see Leatherheads, The Monuments Men, and the terrific Good Night, and Good Luck). This time Clooney follows the journey of Joe Rantz (Callum Turner) who joins the University of Washington junior varsity rowing team not out of any love for the sport but as a way to help cover his tuition during the lean years of the Great Depression. Rowing, or crew, isn't the most cinematic of sports, but the screenplay by Mark L. Smith which adapts Daniel James Brown's non-fiction novel, plays on the intense conditioning, hard work, and teamwork of the sport with the JV crew the underdog team at a university of underdogs with much to prove to themselves and others.

The Boys in the Boat is a solid sports film that captures the look and feel of the time period with strong cinematography from Alexandre Desplat. Sadly, it gets a little lost in its final act after the team achieves their big victory only to be thrown into the 1936 Olympics where our period drama is replaced by hokey nationalism.

The script leans into the underdog nature of the team, constantly finding new challenges for them to overcome before eventually proving doubters wrong and heading off for one more challenge at the Olympics held in Nazi Germany just prior to World War II. Despite the story being focused on a team sport, we could use more scenes to get to know its other members of the crew outside their direct interactions with Joe. Notable performances include Joel Edgerton as Coach Al Ulbrickson, Hadley Robinson as Joe's love interest, Sam Strike as Joe's best friend who joins the team with Joe for similar reasons, and Jack Mulhern as the shy Don Hume.

The film is oddly bookended with a Saving Private Ryan pair of scenes that check-in with an older Joe remembering back on the glory days. Neither add much, if anything, to the proceedings, and their inclusion is more of a curiosity than anything else for a film that feels in desperate need to identify scenes to cut and get in under a two-hour running-time. Not a great film, The Boys in the Boat would still make a fine half of a feel-good sports double-header on a random Saturday night paired with another period piece such as Eight Men Out, Leatherheads, Cinderella Man, or The Legend of Bagger Vance. But, unlike the members of the crew, it never feels like real contender.

Watch the trailer
  • Title: The Boys in the Boat
  • IMDb: link

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