George Clooney directs a true sports drama that centers on the sport of competitive rowing that takes place in 1936, before and during the Olympics in Nazi Berlin, Germany. The book is based on the New York Times bestselling book of the same name by Daniel James Brown. Beginning at the University of Washington, Clooney provides an impressive docudrama of this incredible, against-all-odds event. I enjoyed the film as I have always delighted in learning about different topics, and now I have an understanding of the sport and a genuine appreciation for how this event happened.
Yes, the characters are seriously dedicated in the film, as the preparation for competing in the sport is grueling: in the non-stop weight lifting and protein-loading, including the mental aspects. The sport doesn’t leave much room for love-interests or side-line drama. That’s okay by me, as I’d much rather have the true picture and not a candy-coded Hollywood version. Clooney’s attention to historical details makes you feel like you are reliving the amazing event. I appreciated the wardrobe, sets, and artifacts of the 1930s.
The star of the film, Joe Rantz (Callum Turner), is a depression-era teen who was living in his small car when we met him, as his dad abandoned him when he was only 14 years old. Having to fend for himself, we fast-forward to his college days and not being able to pay tuition. We also see the bread and soup centers where people could get a warm, free meal. When Rantz finds out about the meeting for rowers in which he could earn extra money, he is motivated. Enter Joel Edgerton, coach Al Ulbrickson, garnering solid supporting work as head coach. Peter Guinness (George Pocock), the boat-builder, also carries the film, although the center focus of the rowers is Joe Rantz, who gives an admirable leading performance.
Aside from Joyce Simdars (Hadley Robinson) and Hazel Ulbrickson (Courtney Henggeler) – token roles as Joe’s girlfriend and Al’s wife, respectively, these are the only women characters in the film.
The bottom line is that this is an inspirational true story that follows a group of underdogs during the Great Depression. I enjoyed the film and was also rooting for the college guys as they take on the elite rivals from around the world. This is truly a heartwarming family film.
Sarah Knight Adamson© January 7, 2024