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The Boys in the Boat

Updated: Apr 8

Going into the rousing, thrilling film THE BOYS IN THE BOAT, I was completely unaware of the true history behind the tale. "Rocky" like in its emotional power and storytelling, it far exceeded my expectations.

Director George Clooney and screenwriters Daniel James Brown and Mark L. Smith (The Revenant, Overlord) immerse the viewer into the Pacific northwest during the depression draped 1930's. Set design, photography, costumes and sets are all first-rate, truly taking you back to the era.

Callum Turner (Masters of the Air) is terrific as Joe Rantz, on his own since 14 and looking for enough work to pay his tuition at the University of Washington. Determined to hide his poverty from fellow students, Joe jumps at the chance to try out for the 1936 Rowing team, which pays a small salary and offers a real bed, versus the broken down car that Joe is sleeping in.

Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby) stars as Coach Al Ulbrickson. Not one for rah-rah speeches, he leaves those to his assistant coach Tom Bolles (James Wolk from HBO's "Watchmen").

Joe and nearly 80 others compete for one of only 9 spots on the team.

The training sequences are grueling, a blast to watch and cleverly introduce Joe's teammates that we'll come to cheer.

Standouts include newcomers Thomas Elms as Chuck, Jack Mulhern as Don and Bruce Herbelin-Earle as Shorty Hunt.

Watching these men fighting for their survival and food as rewards for making the team fills the film with a ton of heart.

Clooney delivers emotional climax after emotional climax as the team comes together and begins a quest to beat their college rivals for one spot to compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics alongside Jesse Owens.

Since I didn't know the outcome of any of the matches or the story, I was on the edge of my seat for damn near the entire running time, so I won't divulge anything here. Many friends who have seen the film enjoyed the number one best seller on which it was based, but all complement the adaption.

Turner is excellent as the core of the story and Hadley Robinson (Anyone But You, Little Women) is perfectly cast as Joyce, a grade school crush who meets Joe again at University.

One performance rises above the rest for me. Peter Guinness (Alien 3, Chernobyl) is fantastic as George Pocock, the longtime boat builder for the team. His words of wisdom and compassion for Joe's solitary life are perfectly delivered. When Guiness speaks, every line of dialogue sings. It's an amazing performance that deserved more recognition in awards season.

Prior to making the film, the actors had no rowing experience. They trained every day for months, rowing for four hours a day, every day, and then an hour after filming. Clooney deliberately shot the film in order "so by the time we got to the race in Germany, our kids could stay in the game." The actors' goal was to get to 46 strokes per minute while working on the film, which they achieved, matching the strokes per minute of the original crew in the Olympics.

The races SOAR.

Many of the details of the era are fascinating and well captured, like the open air train with bleacher seating that travels alongside the rowers during competition, keeping the spectators (who could afford the seats) right at the front of the action.

I was worn out by the end of the film cheering for THE BOYS IN THE BOAT. Instantly capturing a spot for me near the historical top of sports films ever made, I defy you to not raise your arms in triumph, jump out of your seat and cheer out loud for these boys representing the best of America.

I loved this movie, awarding it an A+ as the howl of the wind past the boat and Alexandre Desplat's exciting score still circles.

What a beautiful film.

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