‘Boys in the Boat’ Is Everything You Expect (But Somehow Less)

It's 'Dead Boats Society,' another sign of Clooney's directorial decline

George Clooney’s “The Boys in the Boat” is a true story featuring a “Saving Private Ryan”-like flashback of an old man informing a young whippersnapper how he was once a member of a world-famous rowing team.

This narrative bookend is such a lame duck that most will forget it exists or, perhaps, will half-expect the old guy’s face to morph into Matt Damon. It’s the first touch here that is well-intentioned but, like most everything else here, doesn’t connect.

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT | Official Trailer

Callum Turner stars as Joe Rantz, a University of Washington student in 1936 who becomes a member of his school’s rowing team. Rantz initially joined because he was broke and overheard that the team members were being paid.

After throwing himself into rigorous training sessions, Rantz is under the careful watch of Al Ulbrickson (Joel Edgerton), his no-nonsense coach who sees his potential but also recognizes the inner turmoil in Rantz.

Despite being “based on the incredible true story” (as the poster touts) and a 2013 book by Daniel James Brown, none of this feels real. It always seems like the feel-good sports movie that it is.

From the glossy cinematography to the busy period art direction, to Edgerton’s motivational speeches, it’s all very clockwork.

Not helping is that there’s no fire in either Edgerton or Turner’s performance. Rantz has a romance with a Gretchen Moll lookalike (Hadley Robinson), and this never amounts to much. While Rantz has a great deal of emotional baggage he must overcome to become a better rower, I never detected any tension.

Edgerton can be a dynamic actor but he’s restrained here. None of the other actors step up and take hold of this thing.

What happened to Clooney’s directing career?

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT | “A Look Inside” Featurette

Clooney’s debut behind the camera was the intriguing but not entirely there “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” (2003) but his follow up, “Good Night and Good Luck” (2005), was a knockout.

That George Strathairn-led drama, about the career of Edward R. Murrow, was shot in black and white, has a startling use of use of image and sound, and is something of a masterpiece.

It felt like Clooney was about to become a major filmmaker…then “Leatherheads” (2008), “The Ides of March” (2011), “The Monuments Men” (2014) and “Suburbicon” (2017) happened.

I actually liked Clooney’s melancholy sci-fi tale “The Midnight Sky” (2020), even with its Shyamalan-like twist, and wish he hadn’t followed it up with “The Tender Bar” (2021), another entry in Clooney’s body of work that is respectable, well made and instantly forgettable.

Add “The Boys in the Boat” to that list.


Whereas “Good Night and Good Luck” (and, to a lesser extent, “The Midnight Sky”) has distinction and intelligence in its filmmaking, the others greatly fall short.

Despite being unimpressed with his latest film, I’m a fan of Clooney’s work in front of the camera, particularly “The Descendants” (2011), “Solaris” (2002), “Up in the Air” (2009) and “O Brother Where Art Thou” (2000).

His choices as an actor are wildly inconsistent: for every “Gravity” (2011) and “Burn After Reading” (2008), there’s a “Ticket to Paradise” (2022) and “Money Monster” (2016) around the corner.

It figures that the man who will be fondly remembered for embodying Danny Ocean and the Fantastic Mr. Fox was also, without argument, the most infamous Batman in cinema. What I’m saying is that, while I’m a fan, Clooney’s film choices remain inconsistent and his latest is further proof of that.

“The Boys in the Boat” is exactly the kind of movie I will recommend to my mom and in-laws for Christmas. Why? It’s so Hallmark/Lifetime channel-ready, so thoroughly inoffensive, such prepackaged comfort food, it will appeal to anyone who found “Cool Runnings” too gritty (though even that movie has an unpredictable ending and scenes and performances I still remember).

At least Clooney found a way to make the rowing scenes visually interesting, even suspenseful, but you can’t make an entire movie out of that. The rest is dealing with the men in school, contemplating their future, talking in mild tones about women, their careers, and their futures.

We’ve seen all this before, done far better. This movie is toothless. Call it Dead Boats Society.

One and a half stars

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