The predictable uplift sports movie generally provide is one of the greatest sources of its appeal: big goal, lots of work, sacrifice, setbacks, and, in the end—triumph! And sometimes an inspiring musical score too, viz., Chariots of Fire, Rocky.
The Boys in the Boat follows this model almost too well (trailer). Written by Mark L. Smith and directed by George Clooney, it breaks no new ground as it presents the amazing struggle by an eight-man crew from the University of Washington to compete in the 1936 Olympics. You know, the one when American athlete Jesse Owens (Jyuddah Jaymes) won four gold medals and scorched Hitler’s hackles.
The ragtag crew, brought together in the heart of the Depression, was led by actor Callum Turner (playing Joe Rantz), with my favorite performance coming from the megaphoned coxswain, who calls the speed and spurs his crew on, played by Luke Slattery. The cinematography is beautiful, and there’s a stirring score by Alexandre Desplat.
Not only were the Huskies underdogs when pitted against the East Coast Ivy League rowing powerhouses, the boat Coach Ulbrickson (played by Joel Edgerton) chose to enter in the preliminaries wasn’t even his most experienced crew. It was his junior varsity boat. Noses were out of joint. But Ulbrickson saw in the hunger and desperation (and shoes with holes in them) a drive that might take them first over the finish line. Joe Rantz gets some extra motivation through informal “occupational therapy”—late-night sanding and painting—with the elderly boatbuilder, played by Peter Guinness, as they work on the new racing shell for the Huskies team.
The Boys in the Boat is a feel-good film and, as it’s based on a true story (told in a 2013 book by Daniel James Brown), you don’t feel like you’ve been manipulated into those good feelings. The scores below tell the story.
Rotten Tomatoes critics rating 57%; audiences 98%.