The Boys in the Boat


The most common story found in films must be that of the underdog. A character facing adversity, with the odds stacked against them, yet find a way to succeed. What can be more heart-warming and satisfying than that?

Why a boat full of underdogs of course, as can be seen in George Clooney’s latest.

boom reviews The Boys in the Boat
So you see it's not me, it really is you.

1930’s America and times are hard due to the Great Depression. Struggling to make his tuition payments is Joe (Callum Turner); he comes from a broken home where he was forced to fend for himself at only fourteen years old.

He’s only weeks away from being kicked out of school, when he sees that getting on the school’s rowing team comes with the opportunity to get a paid wage. Being working class he hasn’t had much exposure to the sport, but if money’s involved, he’s in.

It’s not as easy as that however, as he’s not only surprised by the sheer number applying, but by the few places available; running the Washington team is coach Al (Joel Edgerton), and as the boat only holds a crew of eight, there are going to be a lot of disappointed young faces.

Still, with very few options open to him, Joe does all he can to make the team, because unbeknownst to him, it’s really going places.

boom reviews The Boys in the Boat
I wish I was on my Xbox right now.

This marks the ninth time behind the camera for Clooney, which also happens to be his second historical sports film after 2008’s Leatherheads.

It’s a story based on fact, that saw a junior varsity rowing team succeed on the water that lead them to Berlin for the 1936 Summer games. Despite its interesting premise, the film struggles to make waves of note.

There’s the sport itself, which isn’t the most high octane event. Because of that, it really is a case of having seen one boat race, you’ve seen them all. Even Clooney struggles with the actual races themselves, as they come across much like the lakes their rowing on – flat. He’s not helped by the fact that it’s also difficult to distinguish between the boats on the water, as all of them and their crew appear fairly uniform, which makes it a struggle to root for our underdog heroes. And they’re the other issue.

As the audience is made fully aware of throughout, the boat can only hold eight crew members. This then would give you the opportunity to get to know these individuals, see them bond and watch their personalities develop. But no. The reality is, Clooney really only gets us close to one character, Joe, played by British actor Turner, with even his team mates not even being secondary characters in the mix. In fact there is one scene in the film where the camera pans its way down the crew in the boat, and you’ll be hard pressed to name any of these characters, let alone relate to them in any way.

So the real underdog is Turner. Which is a shame, because despite his poor background and obvious underdog status, he is truly dull. He’s a character who struggles to emote in any way, even when they give him a love interest in the hope of livening things up, which sadly, doesn’t happen. Turner certainly looks the part, but that’s as far as it goes, which is disappointing.

And then there’s the sense that there’s no real threat to the team, as there are no pesky Nazi rowers planning their downfall, so without any challenge, their course is pretty much plain rowing all the way.

It’s a film then that just about manages to be charming, but only just, and never more than that.

Someone should have sat Clooney down in front of Chariots of Fire and forced him to watch it on a loop for no less than a hundred times before he embarked on his directing duties here, because everything that 1981 Oscar winning classic is, his film very much isn’t.

we give this two out of five