Row Row Row to “Boat”

The Boys in the Boat (Joel Edgerton, Callum Turner, Peter Guinness) – Would I have seen this film if George Clooney weren’t the director? I doubt it. Apparently, Clooney loves to direct period pieces. For example, he previously helmed Leatherheads (a box office failure), The Monuments Men (somewhat painful),and Good Night and Good Luck (excellent).

Set in the mid-1930s at the University of Washington, The Boys in the Boat tells the true story of an inexperienced group of rowers chasing Olympic gold. Their no-nonsense coach, Al Ulbrickson (Joel Edgerton), was coming off a rough year and held an open tryout for interested students to crew his “junior” team. With lots of rigorous training, this ragtag group unexpectedly beat their own varsity team a few times and then did it again against a much-heralded University of California Bears team. Ulbrickson then faced a huge decision — which of his teams to send east to the Poughkeepsie Regatta. He opted for the unpopular decision to send his inexperienced team.

The rest is predictable. Clooney opts for convenience over character exploration, focusing on the competition rather than motivation. In an obvious attempt to attract a female audience, he throws in a meaningless love story for his principal character, Joe Rantz (Callum Turner). It worked, at least in the showing I attended, which had 80 percent women in the audience.

But the major focus of the film is rowing … and the muscles it takes to compete in this grueling sport. The water scenes are beautifully filmed. The competitive action is heavily punctuated by a soaring score by two-time Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat. Look for Desplat to be nominated for an Oscar.

Released just months before the 2024 Olympics, The Boys in the Boat is essentially a period piece about amateur athletes. The presence of relatively unknown actors allows Clooney to spend his budget on moviemaking rather than salaries. He proves again that he is a fine director with a proven artistic touch. The film is a comfortable watch, an underdog-overcomes-adversity story with a satisfying ending.

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