Review: The Boys in the Boat


It’s 1936 and Joe Rantz (Callum Turner) lives in a Seattle Depression-era Hooverville. He stands with men in a soup line for one ladle of thin gruel. He mother died when he was fourand his father left the family when he was 14. He’s a quiet, muscular guy used to taking care of himself. But he is at the University of Washington as an engineering student unable to pay more than half of his tuition. He has a two-week extension to come up with the money when a friend tells him about a possible job – rowing for the school crew team.

Over 50 hungry young men show up to apply for eight rowing positions on the junior varsity team. The reward is free tuition along with room and board. They have some days to compete for a spot through muscle-building exercises and rowing lessons.

This is not only Rantz’s story, but also the story of UW rowing coach Alvin “Al” Ulbrickson, who began coaching at age 24 after a phenomenal career as a rower there.

The crew Ulbrickson fields from these poor have-nots ends up successfully competing against the privileged haves, beating the time of the UW’s own varsity team, then the elite legacy crews of the ivy league schools, and eventually the world’s best at the 1936 Olympics where a moment with Jesse Owens occurs.

Thanks goes to George Clooney for bringing this inspiring underdog story to the screen. He wasn’t sure about its wisdom after noting that the eight actors hired had massive trouble rowing in the required unison. Crew has been called the most difficult of all team sports. As coach Ulbrickson told his teams, you are eight but you row as one. The same hope was for Clooney’s actors.

Clooney’s goal was to tell a sports story glorifying teamwork, camaraderie and community unity while sticking to a reasonable budget. Born and raised in Seattle and a UW graduate, I noticed right away that this film was not made anywhere near the UW. Upon research, it turned out Clooney visited Seattle and quickly realized, despite quite the wooing by the state of Washington, that he could make the film cheaper without navigating the changed city-scape of Seattle, the enlarged, modernized UW campus, and the state’s business taxes. Disappointedly, he ended up choosing the Cotswold Water Park near Swindon, closer to where he lived, and at a dramatic decrease in cost.

Fittingly released on Christmas Day, “The Boys in the Boat” is an inspiring holiday gift about hard work, resilience and working together from Clooney for the entire family.


Director: George Clooney
Screenplay: Mark L. Smith based on the book “The Boys in the Boat,” by Daniel James Brown
Producers: Grant Heslov and George Clooney
Cast: Callum Turner, Joel Edgerton
Cinematography: Martin Ruhe
Genre: biographical sports drama
Editor: Tanya M. Swerling
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Release: Dec. 25, 2023

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