BY JACK RANSOM JANUARY 11, 2024
With the release of One Life at the beginning of the month and now with this floating into cinema’s this week, middle aged/elderly cinema is very much off to a strong start in 2024. Make no mistake, Clooney knows exactly who his target demographic is here: this is an incredibly straightforward, ‘meat and potatoes’ affair, that goes exactly where you think it is going pretty much from the starting line.
The Boys in the Boat is set during the height of the Great Depression, and sees members of the rowing team at the University of Washington get thrust into the spotlight as they compete for gold at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
I’ll admit that I was slightly sceptical going into this, as I have extremely little interest and knowledge in rowing and thought it may potentially sail into a snooze inducing river, whilst it does feel a tad overlong (largely due to the predictable presentation of the story), I can’t deny this underdog story reeled me in. As well as the camaraderie between the titular boys, their Coach - Al Ulbrickson’s (Joel Edgerton) determination and dedication to the team and the schmaltzy, sweet central romance. It’s all very familiar territory and nothing wholly standout, but it just works here. I will say the bizarrely almost-cameo-esque presentation of Adolf Hitler is certainly quite jarring.
Whilst he may have a variety of roles and cover many a genre in his acting career, Clooney is considered somewhat of a journeyman director (admittedly I do still need to see what are considered his best three features: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Good Night and Good Luck and The Ides of March), however this is very much in The Tender Bar territory of tone and stylistic implementations. That being said, the production design captures the time setting well, the editing, sound design and cutting to the crowds and radio listeners for the races is excellent and honestly brings some palpable excitement and investment.
Performance-wise everyone is solid all around. Joel Edgerton’s no-nonsense, driven, order barking yet vulnerable Coach and his titular boys in the boat are easy to root for, with Callum Turner, Jack Mulhern and Luke Slattery being the standouts. Peter Guinness charming, wisdom machine is a welcome presence and Hadley Robinson’s optimistic, jokey and sweet love interest is a charming addition.
The Boys in the Boat is definitely a ‘Sunday afternoon’ viewing that was surprisingly engaging and boasts likeable characters, well put together rowing races and a welcome ‘old school’ vibe to the picture are all standout elements. Yes it is incredibly familiar and is a little too long, but this is certainly an easy viewing and will no doubt impress its target audience.