The Boys in the Boat is an Excellent Sports Drama and Slice of History

In today’s cinematic world of superheroes on land, under the sea, other universes, etc., it is easy to forget what happened in real life on our planet, in our nation, and by humans. In history, hardly anyone was called a “superhero,” as the term is used now. They have achieved something historical that all too often is deemed “old-fashioned” and, at times, almost readily dismissed. When I read that George Clooney is the director of The Boys in the Boat, based on Daniel James Brown’s acclaimed book, I did not doubt his vision of how to present the true-life story of the University of Washington rowing team set in the mid to late 1930s well during the Great Depression. Although they were “underdogs,” they went to the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics – and won a gold medal.

The young men attending the university during this time are not all from wealthy families. Some of them were struggling to survive the depression years. They were in school but could have dressed better and were often hungry. Joe Rantz (Callum Turner) is a homeless college student. He is living out of an old vehicle, mending his shoes (somewhat) with holes in them. He does look for very scarce jobs. He can’t afford to eat at the university cafeteria; instead, he goes to a soup kitchen. Rantz is studying engineering but still needs to finish paying for the current semester. He faces a two-week deadline to pay. Of course, this is hard to watch, but it is a background of what their reality was at the time.

A fellow student in somewhat similar circumstances informs Joe the rowing team is holding tryouts. Rowing is only uppermost on his mind once he learns it comes with pay and lodging. Their needs lead them to the tryouts for only eight spots on a boat, and hundreds also try out to make the team. Once selected, Coach Al Ulbrickson (Joel Edgerton) tells the team they will work as one. One of the new teammates, Donny (Jack Mulhern), is very shy but can play the piano.

Joe’s mama passed, and his father left when he was a young teen. Joe has a classmate named Joyce (Hadley Robinson) who introduces herself by telling him about her crush when they were children. So yes, she is excited for him and cheers him on. Days are filled with practice as part of the junior varsity Huskies. Their first big test is against Cal Berkeley. Bobby (Luke Slattery) is an energetic coxswain with multiple parts of his job urging them on. They do remarkably well, and Coach Ulbrickson decides to send the university’s junior boat to the event in New York. Winning means the right to compete in the Olympics. Yes, sir, his decision is hotly contested by the powers that be with the big money.

One of my favorite scenes is seeing how Joe interacts with George Pocock (Peter Guinness), an older artisan who handcrafts the team’s racing boats. I won’t spoil it, but it is certainly heartfelt. The scenes of them working on the boat together powerfully display this work of art. The cinematography shows the making of the craft, then when on the water, how smoothly it moves in capable rowers. The images of the practices, races, and other scenes are captivating in the overhead shots. The scenes of the fans in the stands, in the lovely dresses and suits of the time, are fabulous. Coach Ulbrickson’s pretty wife, Hazel (Courtney Henggeler), certainly has some stunning costumes for this film.

When the team has been deemed the winner and prepares for the trip to Germany, the look on their faces when they arrive in Nazi Germany, to the swastikas and the banners, says it all. In another exceptional scene at the arena, the Washington team is shown to have a brief conversation with American hero Jesse Owens (Jyuddah Jaymes). When asked if he is there to show the world what he can do, he replies, “To show the people at home.”

The Boys in the Boat is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association “for language and smoking.” Running time: 124 minutes.

Opens on December 25th.

Source: Amazon Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

Leave a comment