The Seattle Times:
George Clooney delivers a sweet adaptation
When we see a story onscreen that’s one of our own, it can be a little hard to get lost in it. George Clooney’s film adaptation of Daniel James Brown’s bestselling nonfiction book “The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” — the movie’s wisely just called “The Boys in the Boat” — is a story set (though not filmed) in Seattle’s backyard and one that many of us have taken to our hearts.
Brown’s book, written with palpable awe and affection for the nine University of Washington student-athletes who overcame enormous hardship and long odds to succeed at an Olympics taking place in the shadow of the Third Reich, is special to many in the region and during the long wait for the movie (the book came out a decade ago), a lot of us have replayed the movie version that lives in our heads — which is, of course, perfect.
So let’s get the local gripes out of the way at the onset: Clooney’s film, shot in the U.K., uses some technical wizardry to suggest some local landmarks, to uneven effect.
A shot of 1936 Seattle’s Hooverville, a shantytown in what’s now Sodo, looks eerily right, with the Smith Tower looming in shadow; the Montlake Bridge is nicely rendered (though the backdrop behind it seems flip-flopped); and a constructed replica of the original ASUW Shell House looks nostalgically spot-on.
Conversely, Students attend classes in a building that has never been seen on the University of Washington campus, await a train in a station that’s nothing like the one here, and practice on a body of water that clearly is not the Montlake Cut. Of course, most viewers of the film won’t notice any of this, and there’s a certain pleasure in complaining about it; we are, after all, the ones who know.
Other than that, how’s the movie? It’s good. It’s sweet. It’s very, very old-fashioned, full of swelling music and amber light (even a soup kitchen looks like an oil painting) and people making folksy speeches, and that feels right, both for the time period and the tone of the book.
Clooney and screenwriter Mark L. Smith have skillfully kept the story tight; we don’t learn much about most of the boys in that boat, other than Joe Rantz (Callum Turner), a quiet young man from Sequim who’s haunted by his past. Joe took hold of the book just as he holds this movie, and Turner plays him with a soft, gentle charisma. You can see why his vivacious girlfriend Joyce (charming Hadley Robinson) adores him, and why the crew coach (Joel Edgerton, who looks born to wear a fedora in a 1930s movie) is intrigued by him; there’s a story hidden inside this young man, and an uncanny strength.
We all know how this movie ends, and it’s to Clooney’s credit that there’s some suspense in the final race (including a nonfactual but fun last twist). “The Boys in the Boat” is ultimately a tribute to a time long gone, to the power of teamwork, and to the grace with which an oar dips into the water on a sun-dappled lake.
And while you might watch it wishing for a little more (why no final notes onscreen telling us what became of the boys?), it leaves you with an uncomplicated warmth that few films find these days. The rest of the story’s there in the pages of the book, just waiting for you.
BOYS IN THE BOAT
Playing January 12-14 & 19-21
Fridays and Saturdays at 5 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m. with captions
Rated PG-13, 2 hours
Free posters while supplies last.
On Saturday, January 13, we’re expecting three UW grads who were part of Washington Rowing when they were students in the late 60s. If you come to the show at 5 p.m. on Saturday, January 13, you’ll meet:
Bob Stanley, team member 1966-69.
Jim Edwards, 1968 Olympic trial coxswain, and 1970 national champion coxswain.
Larry Johnson, 1970 national champion. His father rowed with the 1936 Olympic champion crew.