Review: Clooney's The Boys In The Boat offers stirring tale of teamwork

The Boys In The Boat (12A), (124 mins), Cineworld Cinemas
The Boys In The Boat (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc)The Boys In The Boat (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc)
The Boys In The Boat (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc)

With patience and with detail, director George Clooney fashions a stirring, massively uplifting celebration of the power of teamwork in his powerful retelling of the tale of the University of Washington's rowing team and their rise from their depths of the Depression to the heights of winning gold at Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics.

The film is meticulous in its build-up but in its final scenes, it’s difficult to think of any other sports film that has you rooting quite so hard. You almost feel you are rowing with them, urging them to pick up pace from your seat – and that’s a remarkable achievement for a film in which basically you always feel you know exactly where it’s going and are rarely surprised.

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It’s a hymn to the power of working together right from the start, and the story is how the eight rowers selected for the University of Washington team learn not to be eight, but effectively to become just one – a single entity driving relentlessly towards its goal.

At times, it’s a little frustrating that beyond the main guy we get to know precious little about the other seven in the boat beyond the broadest brushstrokes: this one doesn’t speak much, this one nicks his clothes from Woolworth’s etc etc.

But as the film progresses, slowly it dawns on you that that’s precisely the point: this is the story of a coalescence and that’s what Clooney gives us masterfully. It’s all about knowing you can trust in the person in front of you and in the person behind you – and in that sense, it’s a lovely message, quite apart from being involving to a quite ludicrous degree in the final moments.

Joe Rantz is the only rower fully fleshed out (in the narrative sense, that is), and he’s terrifically played by Callum Turner, the loner at the start, carrying the weight of his father’s rejection at the age of 14 and now barely clinging on to his place at the university where he is studying engineering. It’s not the desire that’s lacking, but the funds, and he is just a couple of weeks away from getting chucked out when he chances upon the opportunity of earning some cash by getting selected for the rowing team – at the end of an arduous trial. He’s even pushed away his childhood crush Joyce Simdars (played by Hadley Robinson), but fortunately she’s quite firmly determined not to let him go again.

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And so he makes the team – and as they gel, so they face down other challenges, the working-class west coast of America team competing for Olympic selection against teams of huge wealth and privilege.

They are also competing against a system that is stacked against them.

But the team – including East Grinstead’s very own Bruce Herbelin-Earle as Shorty Hunt – pull through and it’s rousing stuff indeed as they hone in on the goal.

A big part of the pleasure is also just how authentic it all feels, with what you imagine is a genuine sense of the era.

It is beautiful to look at, beautifully shot and builds enthrallingly towards its supremely feel-good ending.