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Review: “The Boys in the Boat” Offers Rushed and Unsatisfactory Plot

Despite its beautiful cinematography, the film fails to create a compelling storyline.
Photo courtesy of MGM Studios

Eight men to a boat, nothing between them and the finish line except the waves sloshing against the boatside.

On Dec. 25, 2023, The Boys in the Boat, a movie following the American men’s rowing team at the 1936 Olympics was released.

The Boys in the Boat is based upon a book that shares the same name. The author, Daniel James Brown, interviewed a member of the 1936 Berlin Olympics U.S. men’s rowing team, Joe Rantz, for a retelling of the quest for nationalism and gold against the men’s German 8+.

As a rower, I thought this was a very positive retelling of the story in terms of rowing terminology, but I felt as if the movie downplayed the level of work needed to win collegiate rowing, much less win the Olympics in the most competitive category of the time.

The movie features Joe Rantz, a freshman at the University of Washington (UW), who was struggling to pay his tuition. Rantz gets invited to join the rowing team among another few hundred freshman students and faces weeks of extremely painful tryouts. Finally he gets selected for the junior varsity boat, and races Cal’ (UC Berkeley) in their annual UW/Cal Dual. Soon the JV boat begins to beat the UW varsity boat in practice, allowing them to be selected to race in the all-college race and then later on the Olympics.

The acting in the movie was fantastic, and I thought for the most part all of the characters were really representative of the usual dynamics of a rowing boat. Additionally the secondary plot of crafting a rowing boat with George Pocock, the founder of Pocock racing shells, was a really interesting scene as it showcased the difficulty of making a perfectly shaped, buoyant and durable boat of wood.

What I really liked about the movie the most was the lighting. I believe that the shots had a yellow tint over them which made the visuals of the movie seem older to represent the time period the film is set in.

The UW shellhouse was recreated on the Cleveland Lakes in the United Kingdom. From what I can tell, having visited the original shellhouse for a race, the recreation was very accurate. Every bit of the setting looked realistic, there wasn’t any aggressively obvious CGI and frankly I thought the visuals were wonderfully authentic. Additionally, all of the rowing in the film had proper form and technique, which was refreshing to see.

I believe that the director, George Clooney, was struggling to find a beginning and end to the movie because he started off the movie with an older Joe Rantz reflecting on his past and then ended the movie with Joe Rantz finishing his reflection. To me, this beginning and ending style is fatally overused and seems reminiscent of the beginning and conclusion of a personal essay written by a child. There are so many options to start a movie, and this just fell flat and disappointed me.

The plot was decent but I have one big issue with the movie. It was rushed, extremely so. The entire movie was 2 hours and 4 minutes long, which as movies go these days, isn’t that long, and it negatively impacted the quality. The long process of going to the Olympics was rushed in every scene, and the movie made the process out to be only about a year long. In actuality, Joe Rantz made it onto the team in 1933, and his boat did not win the collegiate championships until 1936. Also, there was a romantic subplot in the movie which, although sweet, took up time that could’ve been dedicated to creating a less misleading storyline.

There was one point in which I left the theater for 5 minutes, and somehow I missed an entire personality change in Rantz who was suddenly punching a character who was once a friend. The entire movie was like this: if you needed to briefly leave the theater, you would miss a massive chunk of storyline. As I discussed earlier, the movie was only around 2 hours. By extending the movie and therefore improving the accuracy of the movie, Clooney could have made it significantly more enjoyable to watch.

There’s no shame in making an extremely long movie; Avatar did it, Avengers End Game did it and many other films all are nearing or surpassing the three hour mark. It truly wouldn’t have hurt for Clooney to have extended the movie to make it make more sense.

All in all, I appreciated how this movie helped rowing gain recognition as a sport, yet I remain unimpressed with the condensed and misleading plot. Still, I recommend this movie to anybody who wants to learn more about the sport of rowing in an easily digestible way or anybody who wants to be moved by the spirit of American sports.

About the Contributor
Juliana Stimac, News editor
What are you looking forward to on the staff this year? I’m excited to work with reporters on news stories this year! Who are your favorite music artists? Fiona Apple, the Arctic Monkeys, and The Neighborhood What causes are you passionate about? I’m really passionate about women’s issues and healthcare