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The Boys in the Boat

average rating is 4 out of 5


Brian Penn


Posted on:

Jan 20, 2024

Film Reviews
The Boys in the Boat
Directed by:
George Clooney
Written by:
Mark L. Smith, Daniel James Brown
Joel Edgerton, Callum Turner, Hadley Robinson, Peter Guiness

The portrayal of sport on film is a risky venture. Actors should have the look of athletes to be half convincing. The action sequences will carry the right level of pace and not be overly exaggerated. The sense of physical drama should contrast with the emotional impact of competition. And if the story is based on true events it must be reasonably faithful to what actually happened. George Clooney's new film comfortably ticks the aforementioned boxes.


The narrative picks up in the mid-30s with America in the grip of the Great Depression. Joe Rantz (Callum Turner) is trying to pay his way through college. He lives hand to mouth in little more than a shante town but opportunity soon comes knocking. Washington University are looking for rowers to fill their junior eights boat. However, to even stand a chance of selection they must satisfy a gruelling test of fitness. The lucky eight will get bed and board, but more importantly a regular wage. They might even clinch a spot representing the USA at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The boys come under the watchful eye of Coach Al Ulbrickson (Joel Edgerton), who has to mould a team that will compete with the wealthy Ivy League universities. Joe is gently motivated by childhood sweetheart Joyce Simdars (Hadley Robinson) who senses a champion in the making.


This story can be easily distilled as one of game underdogs fighting the system. Working class boys out to prove that money can't necessarily buy success. The battle lines are clearly drawn as Ulbrickson’s boys go up against privilege and self-entitlement. George Clooney does a sterling job as director in what is technically a very difficult film to make. Rowing is essentially a point-to-point race. There are no goals, tries or touchdowns to be scored; no knockout punch out on which to hang a lingering shot. Clooney brilliantly captures the angles of a long boat on water. The design and attention to detail is almost faultless. Berlin under Nazi rule is powerfully recreated as Hitler exploits the Olympics as a propaganda tool.


The Boys in the Boat is a touching story of sporting excellence and a desire to be the best. It’s never corny or sentimental but tells a story of honest graft and genuine endeavour. It was a much simpler world on the cusp of global conflict. Yet these values still endure as an example of the way a good life should be lived.

About the Film Critic
Brian Penn
Brian Penn
Theatrical Release
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