SYNOPSIS: In this adrenaline-fueled reimagining of the 80s cult classic, ex-UFC fighter Dalton (Jake Gyllenhaal) takes a job as a bouncer at a Florida Keys roadhouse, only to discover that this paradise is not all it seems. 


George Clooney loves to tackle either politics or history in his directorial movies. There are a few exceptions of course and this time, he dabbles again in a sports theme after the football comedy, Leatherheads (2008).

Based on a best-selling book by Daniel James Brown and adapted to the screen by Mark L. Smith (The Revenant, The Midnight Sky), The Boys in the Boat tells the story of a young Joe Rantz (Callum Turner from the Fantastic Beasts franchise) and how he made it to the varsity rowing team at the University of Washington.

Joe Rantz by the way is not a born sportsman or rower. He joined the team out of necessity and survival. His father has abandoned him when he was 14, he lives in a dilapidated car, has no money for food and has trouble paying for his tuition fees. At least food, lodging and money is provided if he qualifies for the team who basically needs only 8 rowers. Rantz managed to get into the team together with his friend, Roger Morris (Sam Strike) despite never touching an oar before.

On the other side of the spectrum, Coach Al UIbrickson (Joel Edgerton) and assistant coach Tom Bowles (James Wolk) has to make sure the Juniors are worthy of competing at the Poughkeepsie Regatta and the chance to compete in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

The Boys in the Boat is the classic, old-fashioned underdog sports drama that requires little from the audiences other than to root for Rantz and his teammates. Unfortunately even with a small team of eight rowers, most are not given the spotlight except the introverted yet talented Don Hume (Jack Mulhern) and the mischievous Bobby Moch (Luke Slattery). Turner has the most screen time as the troubled Rantz thus standing out as the most distinguishable, rounded character of all.

Australian actor Edgerton is solid as coach UIbrickson though he is not granted a more significant presence other than mouthing a few ham-fisted motivational speeches. English actor Peter Guinness plays a boat builder who turned up as sort of a spiritual guidance to Rantz.

Rather than a bombastic score to highlight the intensity of the races, the music composed by award-winning Alexandre Desplat has that jazzy, lightweight feel. The cinematography by Martin Ruhe is impressive. Juggling between the dynamics of the crew rowing and the backdrop of the story which is set in the Great Depression and also the Olympic Games which gamely featured a notorious historical figure, the splendid visuals can be far more enticing than the storytelling.

While not exactly a low effort by Clooney, the narrative doesn’t really allow the whole historical context to flow naturally. At times, it feels more like a fictional sports drama about fictional sports figures. Nevertheless, The Boys in the Boat is enjoyable and well-meaning for what it is.


Review by Linus Tee