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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Boys in the Boat

Back to the 1936 Olympics again

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 4, 2024 – Movies about participants in the Olympic games have become a sub genre in the pantheon of inspirational sports stories. This one is based on the true story of the University of Washington junior varsity rowing team that won a medal in the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympic Games. It reminded me a lot of the popular movie “Chariots of Fire” (1981) depicting British athletes running in the 1924 Games.

The movie, directed by George Clooney (“The Monuments Men”) follows one member of the rowing team in particular, Joe Rantz (played by Callum Turner of “Green Room”) who signs up for team tryouts because he needs the money and housing given those who make the team. He knows nothing about rowing, or how hard it will be to make the team, but he's desperate, as are many during the hard times of the Great Depression. He is homeless, living in an abandoned wreck of a car in a shanty town with other homeless people.

Also featured in the movie are the rowing coach, Al Ulbrickson (Joel Edgerton of “Thirteen Lives”) his wife, Hazel (Courtney Henggeler of the “Cobra Kai” TV series) and boat builder George Pocock (Peter Guinness of “Official Secrets”). Al is under pressure from UW alumni to win after a poor season, or face the loss of his job.

A large group of UW students, all in need of money and housing, turns out for the rowing team tryouts, and the grueling competition is fierce. Eight are selected, plus one alternate, for the junior varsity eight man racing shell team. Rantz is perhaps more desperate than the rest, having been abandoned by his family at the age of 15, he is struggling to put himself though school.

Rantz is studying engineering at UW. He is befriended by Joyce Simdars (Hadley Robinson of “Little Women”) who he has known since high school, but he keeps an emotional distance from her. A chance encounter with his father, (played by Alec Newman of “Greyhawk”) brings up old emotional wounds about being abandoned and not having any control of his own life.

The UW JV rowing team has strong rowers, but they can't seem to row together, at Pocock's suggestion, Al tries a new coxswain, Bobby Moch (Luke Slattery of “Late Night”) who turns out to be what the eight rowers need in order to become properly synchronized. A coxwain not only helps to steer the boat, but calls out the speed of strokes and helps keep the team rowing as one.

The UW JV team turns out to be faster than the varsity team, and wins its race against a powerful University of California, Berkeley team, setting a course record in the process. The team is so fast, strong and has such stamina, that Al makes the controversial decision to bypass his own varsity team and enter his JV team at the national championship regatta.

Winning the regatta means the team qualified for the Olympics, but that's just the beginning, as the team faces a number of obstacles, organizational, financial, physical and emotional that threaten to block the team's from participation in the Olympics. Better financed teams threaten to replace the UW team, sickness strikes the team, and Rantz's emotional problems also threaten the team's success. The path to Olympic glory is anything but easy.

The formula for making a good inspirational sports story is well known. This movie, based on the 2013 book of the same name by Daniel James Brown, was preceded by a 2016 documentary, “The Boys of '36” which aired on PBS, part of the American Experience series. Although the movie does follow a predictable path, the formula works well, thanks to a good story and strong acting by the entire cast. This movie rates a B.

According to the web site “History vs Hollywood,” this movie is mostly accurate, though a few things were changed, such as the fact that coach Ulbrickson recruited Rantz when he was still in high school, and Rantz actually proposed marriage to Joyce Simdars when they were in high school together (they eventually did marry, and had a very long and successful marriage).

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2024 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)

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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]