THE BOYS IN THE BOAT
December 25, 2023 / Warner Bros.
Starring: Joel Edgerton, James Wolk, Callum Turner, Bruce Herbelin-Earle, Thomas Elms, Chris Diamantopoulos, Peter Guinness, Sam Strike, Jack Mulhern, Hadley Robinson
Directed By: George Clooney
Joe Rantz (Callum Turner) is studying engineering at the University of Washington, but his money has run out and he has no money for tuition, or even for food. When a friend tells him the university's junior rowing team is looking for recruits and that they'll be housed, fed and paid, he tries out.
After a number of physical tests and training, Joe is chosen by Coach Ulbrickson (Joel Edgerton) to be part of the crew. Although the rowing team hasn't won in years, they go from being underdogs at the height of the Great Depression, to competing against the elite at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Written By Darren
Rating 4.5 out of 5
The Boys in the Boat is an inspirational, true sports drama that harkens back to the sports dramas of the 1990s that audiences fell in love with, that under George Clooney’s direction with a strong cast, makes for a truly crowd pleasing experience for audiences to experience this holiday season.
If we were still in the 1990s, I would have no hesitation making the claim that The Boys in the Boat would be a front runner at the Academy Awards. It’s an inspirational, true sports story drama that the Academy has historically had an incredible soft spot for, and it is the type of film that audiences who watch it will instantly fall for. While not only being a truly crowd pleasing film about one rowing team from Seattle that beat all the odds and found itself at the 1938 Olympics in Germany, it's also a throwback to the sports dramas that Hollywood used to love making. We see less of these films today, which makes the ones that are made even more special, and under the capable direction of George Clooney, this film is going to sneak up on audiences and make a good argument for being one of their favourite films of the year.
There is no denying that there is nothing incredibly inventive about the screenplay written by Mark L. Smith, adapting the non-fiction novel by Daniel James Brown, as it follows your traditional sports biopic structure. But, it is a truly incredible story that captures an old school Hollywood feeling that immediately hooks the audience. It’s a character based drama as we watch coach Al Ubrickson try to crack the secret to making this team of young men ready to compete against the Ivy league schools for a chance at the Olympic spot, while at the same time we follow Joe Rantz, one of the rowers on the team, as he tries to survive in life after being abandoned by his family at a young age. We spend time getting to know the other rowers and coaches on the team, but the film is focused on the team’s journey to the Olympics more so than all of the persons involved in the story, but it is a truly rousing story that audiences will immediately get caught up in. While it’s a smaller element, the film does touch upon the Nazi control of Germany during the third act and their quest for domination. It’s a minor element as at that point, something the film cannot avoid commenting on and does so well, but when it becomes relevant to the story, it is time for the men’s eight team to shine and have their spotlight moment on the world stage which the film rightly focuses on.
Clooney’s direction is good, it’s not flashy, but it captures the heart of this story that captured the attention of a nation. Clooney is at its best during the rowing sequences as Clooney puts you in the boat with the team, experiencing their mental and physical exhaustion during the races combined with the side shots and bird’s eye view shots to show the excitement of the races. Without a doubt, it ranks alongside Clooney’s stronger outings as a director and proves that it is stories like this that he should be directing as he has that old Hollywood touch as a director.
The story in The Boys in the Boat sets up an ensemble drama, not providing any specific actor with a standout moment, but the performances from the entire cast are great. The two main roles are Coach Al Ubrickson and Joe Rantz, played respectively by Joel Edgerton and Callum Turner. Edgerton is perfectly fit for the role with a commanding warmth and screen presence that guides not only his team, but the audience through the film. Turner, best known in North America for the Fantastic Beasts films, Turner brings an undeniable heart to the film as Rantz, giving the audience an underdog that they can easily attach to and root for over the course of the film. His romantic chemistry with his co-star Hadley Robinson is great, bringing a sweetness to his character’s story and the film. It’s a strong performance from Turner that should hopefully launch him to the next stage of his career. The entire cast is good and there are truly no weak performances in sight, but with so many characters, many of them don’t get more than a couple of scenes with moments to focus on them over the course of the film and are merely just present in the background for most of the film. Though for me, it was Luke Slattery who stole the film as Bobby Moch, the team’s coxman. It’s a wise cracking role full of great one liners, with Slattery fully embracing Moch’s infectious personality and he livens up every scene he is in. Needless to say, I’m very curious to see what the future has in store for Slattery.
From the second the opening credits begin, Alexandre Desplat’s musical instantly washes over you and helps steer the emotions of the film. It's full of majestic and thrilling themes for the race sequences, helping to set the audience’s expectations as to who is going to win the race as there is no sports commentary track as you are in the boat with the team for the most part, using a full string and wind orchestra to great effect. While off the water, Desplat uses piano themes and strings to create a more tender soundscape to bond the audience to the characters and their personal struggles. Even with a year of such great musical scores, Desplat’s stands out as not only one of the strongest elements of the entire film, but one of the better musical scores of the entire year.
When it comes to true sports stories, you should never bet against them as they always end up being a truly enjoyable, emotionally resonant and exhilarating experience on the big screen. And that is exactly what George Clooney and his team do with bringing to life the story of the University of Washington’s men’s eight rowing team and their journey to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. Without question, The Boys in the Boat will have audiences cheering in their seats as they watch this true story of the underdog team that went the distance, beating all the odds at every turn, become an outstanding big screen experience thanks to a strong cast with a scene stealing performance by Luke Slattery and a triumphant musical score from Alexandre Desplat!