Clooney’s “Boys in the Boat” is Adrift

It’s pretty and patriotic, which may be just enough for some moviegoers seeking old-fashioned family entertainment. But director George Clooney can scarcely salvage The Boys in the Boat (C-), a true-life Depression era tale of a ragtag Washington State rowing team on a potential collision course with the Berlin Olympics. The stakes should feel rightly leviathan and rarely do. A rudderless coach/mentor story, an undercooked love story and most notably a lack of depth in showcasing team camaraderie are among the central failings of a movie about winning. The crew sport doesn’t quite provide sufficient cinematic gusto either; there are only so many ways to row, row, row one’s way to so-so dramatic results. The coach character played by actor Joel Edgerton, usually a fascinating screen presence, rarely rises to the occasion. Callum Turner is fairly effective embodying the steely, stoic protagonist and makes the most of his underwritten central role. As his love interest, the plucky Hadley Robinson provides the radiant working definition of a role being sidelined. The epic score over oars, head-scratching pivots in plot and pacing, lack of clarity about the hard scrabble kids’ disadvantages against their well-heeled East coast contemporaries, an arbitrary monologue about crafting a seaworthy vessel and the nonchalant arrival of Hitler as a Hail Mary to raise the stakes are all on the low-simmer punch list as the story drifts. There’s a particularly inconsequential passage of the characters fundraising that fails the Dr. Evil test of putting financial figures in proper context. Forgive it the clunky present-day bookends under murky makeup, the unfinished plot points or a number of squandered opportunities, though, as there’s a decent family story about the value of personal integrity and hard work buried within Clooney’s film. The movie definitely needed elements as propulsive as its real-life heroes.

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