Directed by: George Clooney
Written by: Mark L. Smith
Starring: Callum Turner, Joel Edgerton, Jack Mulhern, Luke Slattery, Sam Strike, Alec Newman
Released: January 4, 2024
Grade: B+

The Boys in the Boat

There are so many wonderful stories throughout history which have been largely forgotten due to the passage of time.  All it takes is a spark of inspiration to bring them back into the public’s mind.  I had those thoughts two decades ago on reading the 1999 novel Seabiscuit: An American Legend which later became an Oscar-nominated movie.  The work of author Laura Hillenbrand ensured the rags-to-riches story of the much-loved American racehorse would be enjoyed and remembered for many generations to come.

There’s a nice parallel with The Boys in the Boat, the latest directorial outing of George Clooney (Good Night, and Good Luck).  It too is based on a non-fiction book, authored by Daniel James Brown and first published in 2013, which focuses on an inspiring, much-forgotten sporting achievement.  The period of history also aligns!  The film’s climax takes place on 14 August 1936 at the Summer Olympics in Berlin – the same month Seabiscuit was purchased by entrepreneur Charles Howard at Saratoga Race Course back in New York City.

If you’re new to the tale, and a lot of people will be, The Boys in the Boat follows an athletic group of students from the University of Washington chosen for the men’s eight rowing team.  Selection came with free food and accommodation – a lucrative benefit given this was the middle of Great Depression and some could barely afford to eat.  Given little chance, they overcame huge adversity in defeating the more fancied crews across the United States and earning the right to compete at the Berlin Olympic Games.

I’ll concede screenwriter Mark L. Smith’s (The Revenant) handling of the material is as formulaic as it gets.  There are training montages, token love interests, moments of self-doubt, and folks sitting around radios listening to races.  It’s the sort of stuff you’d expect from a sporting movie.  The inclusion of Jesse Owens and Adolf Hitler adds nothing (it’s a distraction more than anything) and the script is only scratching the surface with a handful of subplots (like the fractured relationship with a rower and his father).

Still, the film works because of the energy and emotion generated by the three big rowing races.  My eyes were moist.  It’s hard not to be caught up in the moment as the camera closes in on the boat and we listen intently to the sights and sounds.  The cast are terrific with emphasis on two individuals who get more screentime – Callum Turner (Fantastic Beasts) as a determined rower and Luke Slattery (New Amsterdam) as a cheeky coxswain.  Australian Joel Edgerton (The Gift) blends toughness, compassion, and vulnerability with his worthy portrayal as the team coach.

The Boys in the Boat has its limitations but as the story is so damn good, it’s a movie you need to see.

You can read by chat with star Joel Edgerton by clicking here.