Movie ReviewsJosh Reviews The Boys in the Boat

Josh Reviews The Boys in the Boat

The Boys in the Boat is based on the book by Daniel James Brown and tells the true story of the University of Washington junior rowing team and their eventual triumph at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.  The film adaptation was written by Mark L. Smith (The Revenant, The Midnight Sky) and directed by George Clooney.

I’m a fan of Mr. Clooney as a director.  I adore Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night and Good Luck, and I quite enjoyed 2021’s The Tender Bar I’m always interested in his new projects.

The Boys in the Boat is a solid, entertaining movie.  The true story is incredible, and Mr. Clooney and his team, bolstered by a strong cast, do a fine job bringing it to life.  I enjoyed the film from start to finish.

It was only after finishing the film that I considered it and realized it was slighter than I’d hoped it would be.  I wish the characterizations dug deeper.  The main character, Joe Rantz, was well developed, but most of the other characters were fairly superficial.  I think it’s a mistake that we didn’t get to know the other members of the boat crew.  Other than the coxswain Bobby and the guy who gets sick at the end (checks internet: his name was Don Hume), we really didn’t get to know any of the guys.  I think this would have been a much stronger movie had they spent the time to allow the audience to get to know the boys better.  Heck, we don’t even really get to know Bobby.  When the Coach Ulbrickson hires him, they allude to his having been in trouble (fired?) in the past; I’d expected we’d get to know his story as the movie progressed, but that never happened.  Speaking of the coach, I wanted to know more about him, too!  What was his situation?  How had he wound up where he did, and why was this crew team so important to him?

The film also seems to jump over some story points that I wish had been more fleshed out.  There’s a scene in which Coach Ulbrickson takes a look at his team’s lockers and sees the holes in their shoes; the scene brings home the poor financial situation of most of the boys on his team.  I’d expected us to see the coach taking some action in response to that, but that doesn’t happen.  Similarly, towards the end of the film, there’s a lot of drama mined from Don Hume’s getting terribly ill right before the Berlin Olympics.  There’s a lot of question as to whether the doctor will allow him to compete.  Then we see him sitting in the boat without understanding what happened — is he better? Is he getting better so was allowed to compete?  Is he still sick and is in danger by competing?  It’s weird to me that the film doesn’t actually clarify his situation and what’s going on.

Callum Turner (he played Newt’s brother Theseus in the Fantastic Beasts films) plays Joe Rantz, and he’s very good in the role.  He’s a “strong silent type”, but Mr. Turner has the charisma to command the screen even when he’s not saying much.  He’s fun to watch go on this journey.  Joel Edgerton (Lars Owen in the Star Wars Prequels and Obi-Wan Kenobi; Animal Kingdom; Zero Dark Thirty; Black Mass; Loving) is terrific as Coach Ulbrickson.  Here too is a character who doesn’t say much, but Mr. Edgerton has tremendous presence, and there’s always a lot going on when we look at his face.  Peter Guinness (Jack Ryan season 3) is wonderful as the wise old man who builds and maintains the boats for the University of Washington team; James Wolk (Mad Men, Watchmen) is solid as the assistant coach, Tom Bolles, who gets swept up in the team’s adventure; Hadley Robinson brings a strong personality to a somewhat underwritten role as Joe’s girlfriend Joyce; and I’d say the same for Courtney Henggeler as Coach Ulbrickson’s wife Hazel.

While I wish I’d gotten to know all of these characters better, the film has an old-fashioned charm that I found endearing.  The true story being told is dramatic, and the film leans heavily into the underdog aspect of the story, emphasizing the many ways this working-class team had to overcome obstacles set up by the wealthy at American universities, including their own, before they ever get the chance to travel to Berlin to compete against Hitler’s nation.  This film was designed to be a crowd-pleaser, and while I can see the effort to do so, I also can’t deny that in many ways it worked.  As I wrote above, I had a fun time watching this film.

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