Home MoviesReviews The Boys in the Boat Review

The Boys in the Boat Review

by Daniel Reynolds
2.0 out of 5.0 stars

The poster for director George Clooney’s latest film, The Boys in the Boat, notes it’s “based on an incredible true story.” While there’s little doubt some version of these events did happen—feel free to Google “1936 Olympics” to be sure—this tagline annoys me. The problem is its use of “incredible.” The film is just in no way able to capture that sentiment at all.

Working from a script by Mark L. Smith, Clooney does imbue The Boys in the Boat with more than enough sentimentality, which isn’t the same thing. His film follows the unlikely success of the junior varsity rowing team for the University of Washington (led by a stiff Joel Edgerton). It’s a classic underdog story, one that could be a stirring (albeit generic) sports movie. Somehow, even with this obvious premise, Clooney fails to animate his film in any lasting way. Case in point: the ostensible lead, Joe (Callum Turner), enters as a cash-strapped student who wants on the team for the pay. Given the film’s Depression Era setting, that’s a compelling narrative, except it remains dramatically inert—despite more plot additions (a burgeoning romance, strained father-son relations, some class conflict). By the time actual Hitler appears, it’s fair to ask what happened to the story about the hard-luck kid looking for a job. (Also fair to ask: who cares about any of this?) Now, the title does note the plural—and we do meet some of the other boys—but everything feels rote, like a dutiful checking of boxes. Despite some handsome rowing scenes, the resulting narrative diffusion muddles everything into the blandest film possible.

What’s most incredible about The Boys in the Boat is that Clooney got to direct it at all. Sure, he’s been making films now for over 20 years and has been granted access to an astounding array of talent, resources, and can’t-miss ideas. Yet his films just keep getting worse. Nevertheless, it’s a safe bet we’ll see “directed by George Clooney” on another poster soon.

You may also like

Brief Take