Hollywood Movies Review

The Boys in the Boat 2023 Movie Review

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The Boys in the Boat 2023 Movie Review

Hollywood is full of inspiring sports-themed movies, especially those focused on underdogs who rise to the occasion. But films about rowing teams are few and far between — until now. Director George Clooney‘s The Boys in the Boat is a gorgeous adaptation of the Depression-era story of a group of poor but scrappy young men who find a slice of glory when they become the USA’s choice to compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It is, to use a well worn cliché, a stand-up-and-cheer tale if ever there was one.

But the primary reason to cheer is the kind of unspoken underlying message within, that this is a sport where it is imperative that everyone in the boat rows as one, in unison and together physically and psychologically. This makes The Boys in the Boat not just enormously entertaining, but also important and relevant to our current world that is more divided, more ripped at the seams, than ever in my memory. This movie, based on the 2013 bestseller by Daniel James Brown, assures us that the triumph of the soul is working together, not apart. It is a simple sentiment to be sure, but watching Clooney’s beautifully constructed period piece it is pretty much all I could think about.

Set in the heart of the Depression we meet Joe Rantz (Callum Turner), who is basically abandoned and on his own, scraping by, as dirt poor as you could imagine, when he come upon the opportunity to try out for the University of Washington rowing team — an opportunity that would offer him a roof over his head, some cash, and a way to go to school. However this being the Depression, there are a lot of young men with the same idea.

Rantz does make the team though, and his life begins to transform, both as a boy in the boat and also in the heart of a young girl named Joyce (Hadley Robinson) with whom he strikes up a sweet relationship. We also meet Coach Al Ulbrickson (a terrific Joel Edgerton) who is the kind of man who is deadly serious about his task at hand and seemingly incapable of showing any real pleasure in his job, at least externally. He is helped with his opposite number, the lively assistant coach Tom Bolles (James Wolk), and between the pair we somehow have leadership to whip this ragtag group into shape. The real story here is this is a group of very forgotten and poor kids who all seem to have the same mantra: rowing just to stay in school, just to eat, just to survive. In that way, this film is a softer version of another Depression-era movie, 1969’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? in which a group of ballroom contestants must keep dancing just to live.

Fortunately, The Boys in the Boat isn’t full of the doom and gloom of that movie because we know going in they are going all the way, against all odds. But first, as a put-down junior varsity team, they have to deal with proving themselves over the more experienced senior varsity team, then a group of obnoxious frat boys, and lo and behold, finally the NazisWe root for them all the way, and one reason is the casting of the team, which in addition to the excellent Turner is made up of a disparate group of kids who must get their act together — literally. Each of them exhibit identifiable personality traits that help make them stand out at first, and make the transition to a team working in precision all the more impressive. The actors, who include Luke Slattery as Bobby Moch, the coxswain calling the shots as it were, also are genuinely believable in a sport for which they clearly must have trained months just to be authentic. Rachel Tenner was the casting director..

Another star of the movie are the boats themselves, meticulously built and re-created by production designer Kalina Ivanov. Cinematographer Martin Ruhe’s cameras swoon over the finished product once the boat is revealed in a long, slow shot ogling every inch of it. The work of Ruhe (a longtime collaborator of Clooney’s) here overall is sumptuous, employing every possible way to make the spectator sport of it all seem genuinely exciting to watch. The 1936 Olympics is expertly re-created, even if Daniel Philpot’s Hitler can’t escape the caricature. Jyuddah Jaymes’ Jesse Owens is briefly and effectively included. Two-time Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat’s lovely score avoids the usual beats for this genre and is well matched to what we see on screen. Turner and Robinson are both appealing young actors, giving us all the reason we need to hope they will have a life together.

Producers are Clooney and his Smokehouse partner Grant Heslov. It is a Christmas gift for lovers of the kind of movies you thought they just didn’t make anymore.

The Boys in the Boat 2023 Movie Review

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