THE BOYS IN THE BOAT is a deeply dull, paint-by-numbers underdog sports biopic about a working class American rowing eight than won Gold at the 1936 Olympics. We don't learn much about them, other than that they are poor and motivated. We know they are poor because is an opening scene the hero (Callum Turner with an absurd and distracting blonde dye job) is putting cardboard inside his shoe. We don't learn much about their coach (Joel Edgerton) who just looks taciturn and unknowable for the entire film. We certainly don't understand why they are so good and what he did to make them that way. And we don't really understand the stakes.
This was the Hitler/Berlin Olympics but director George Clooney has no interest in showing the real peril of fascist Germany, just as he isn't interested in showing the real tragedy of Depression-era America. Instead, he puts a few Nazi flags up, has a few brownshirts cheer for Germany, and some guy play dress up as the Fuhrer. It's actually so trivialising it's insulting - particularly to Jesse Owens. What we learn from all this is that Clooney doesn't want to get his hands dirty in the period.
Instead he creates a film that is book-ended by a sappy grandpa-grandson bit of nostalgia; that is forever bathed in twinkling sunlight; and where the hero's girlfriend forever has perfectly styled hair and no character or lines to speak of. This is dull retrograde film-making of the worst kind, and all the more embarrassing because CHARIOTS OF FIRE figured out how to inject emotion, stakes and modernity forty years ago.
THE BOYS IN THE BOAT is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 123 minutes. It was released in the USA on Christmas Day 2023, and in the UK on January 12th.