Movie Review: The Boys in the Boat
George Clooney catches a crab in this respectful, but unforgivably clichéd, take on the true tale of the 1936 U.S. Rowing Team, and the crew of working class heroes who beat Hitler’s elites to take home the gold.
The Boys in the Boat
Starring; Joel Edgerton, Callum Turner, Peter Guiness, Chris Diamantopoulos
Directed by: George Clooney
Running time: 2 hrs 4 mins
Opens in theatres December 25, 2023
By Katherine Monk
I’m not sure exactly when it hit me. But sometime over the course of watching The Boys in the Boat, the new film from director George Clooney about a group of underdogs who make it to the Olympics, I had a powerful flashback to a movie that defined my generation.
You may remember it, too. It told the story of a handsome young man from the wrong side of the tracks who dreamed of social validation and acceptance. His odds of success at the Naval Academy were low, but thanks to his mental toughness and competitive edge, he kept pushing himself to get to the next level.
To keep things cinematic and sexy for the viewer, he also did lots of push-ups.
That man was played by Richard Gere at the height of his physical prowess in a movie called An Officer and a Gentleman, a fictional story from the 1980s that generously spread schmaltz on Americana toast.
The Boys in the Boat features the same taste for traditional gravy as it tells the Cinderella story of the 1936 US Mens Rowing team, it also features a very handsome young man who looks a lot like Richard Gere.
Indeed, there is something about English actor Callum Turner (Green Room) that conjures all kinds of misty memories of Richard Gere in dress whites. It’s more than the rock solid physique and the square jaw, it’s the roguish wink and chiclet twinkle that sparks the muse’s fuse, and stokes the romantic beachside bonfire.
You need raw charisma to keep an historical drama moving, and there’s no doubt Turner has plenty to spare in the role of the real life Joe Rantz, but for all the muscular ripples and cute dimples, he fails to deliver the most important ingredient of all: Emotional transformation.
… There is something about English actor Callum Turner that conjures all kinds of misty memories of Richard Gere in dress whites. It’s more than the rock solid physique and the square jaw, it’s the roguish wink and chiclet twinkle that sparks the muse’s fuse, and stokes the romantic beachside bonfire.
Though we can’t help but like the central character who was abandoned by his father at the age of 14, and put himself through engineering school while living in a car, he doesn’t change all that much over the course of the film. He just gets fitter, and more famous.
Needing money to finish his degree, Rantz signs up for the rowing team. If he makes the squad, he’ll get room and board, as well as an honorarium to pay for classes. The only problem is our would-be handsome hero has no experience in an eight-man racing shell.
For those who know little about the sport of rowing, the ‘eights’ are considered the hardest vessels to control and master because there are so many different forces at play. The boat is long, hard to manoeuvre, and packed with eight athletes gifted with different brains and bodies.
It is the job of the coach and coxswain to turn the eight bodies into a smooth, single engine. Similarly, it was the job of George Clooney to take a story about sport, American history, the Depression, and Adolf Hitler’s bid for Olympic optics and turn it into a single narrative stroke that pays homage to American exceptionalism.
The basic pieces are there: The handsome male lead, the heroic storyline about a group of underdogs who exceed expectation, and the crisis of self-confidence that threatens to sideline the whole team.
Don’t worry about the jargon or the technical aspects. Everything in this movie is explained through chunks of cliche, usually delivered by a wise old man in spectacles who speaks in aphorisms, and has a spiritual connection to every cedar strip on the storied shell that shut down the Nazis.
Don’t worry about the jargon or the technical aspects. Everything in this movie is explained through chunks of cliche, usually delivered by a wise old man in spectacles who speaks in aphorisms…
Clooney seemed to sense how much America needed an old-fashioned, feel-good yarn about democratic forces squashing fascism, and he didn’t go wrong when he looked to the real life tale behind the storied Husky Clipper to bring it to the big screen.
Eight young men learning to unite and synchronize is a potent symbol of teamwork and transcendence. Moreover, few sports are as visually elegant as rowing, thanks to the knifelike boats slicing through mirror calm waters and the rhythmic swoosh of simultaneous strokes.
Yet, to borrow a rowing term, Clooney still catches a crab*: He may have placed his oar in the water with plenty of skill, but the timing is off.
An Officer and a Gentleman was a good movie for its time, but the tropes that define the genre now feel dated. The Boys in the Boat tells a great story, and celebrates all the good things about old-fashioned America, but it can’t overcome its own craving for cliche, or Clooney’s decision to stay close to shore, and on the surface.
* Crab: An accident that occurs when a rower loses control of his or her oar. The rower’s blade gets trapped in the water by the momentum of the shell, and the oar handle flies backwards, going over the rower’s head or striking the rower’s chest. (From the online dictionary.)
THE EX-PRESS, December 25, 2023