The Film Doesn't Quite Capture The Source Book's Drama
A Quick Film Review
Published in 1913, the historical account by Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics reintroduced to readers the story behind one of Berlin 1936's compelling backstories of its athletes - the men's eights rowing crew that secured gold despite a hard scrabble background that saw them persevere despite unique challenges.
And that's a shame, because that drama sure is worth retelling. A group of young men, collectively more working class than traditional crews, come together at the University of Washington to eventually become unlikely world-beaters, set against the challenges of the Great Depression and the spectacle of the 'Nazi-fied' Olympic environment.
While The Boys in the Boat centers the plot around Team USA's Joe Rantz (played by Callum Turner), as did Brown's novel, the film doesn't deliver enough insight to the other members of the boat. We learn Donald Hume (Jack Mulhern) is the quiet one with a knack for the piano, and that coxswain Robert Moch (Luke Slattery) was a relatively late addition to the team...but that's about it. The remainder are largely nameless, which is a sharp departure from the novel.
As is the small buildup to what appearing at the Olympics was like, since much of the novel's spirit is drawn from the odd circumstances of Berlin 1936, with the Nazi-inspired attempts to control a German-centric narrative and exhibition. Also, with Team USA being the four-time defending Olympic champion in the men's eights event entering 1935, the fact that this ragtag crew earned entry as the American representative was much more impactful in historical context than The Boys in the Boat offers.
That said, it's always a delight to see an Olympic athlete story on the big screen. And, The Boys in the Boat does deliver a good-looking film, in tones, colors, and set & costume designs that mark the era. And who doesn't love a good overhead shot of crews in action?