(director: George Clooney; screenwriters: Mark L. Smith, based on the book by Daniel James Brown; cinematographer: Martin Ruhe; editor: Tanya Swerling; music: Alexandre Desplat; cast: Joel Edgerton (Al Ulbrickson), Callum Turner (Joe Rantz), Peter Guinness (George Pocock), Jack Mulhern (Don Hume), James Wolk (Coach Tom Bolles), Hadley Robinson (Joyce Simdars), Courtney Henggeler (Hazel Ulbrickson), Sam Strike (Roger Morris), Thomas Elms (Chuck Day), Luke Slattery (Bobby Moch), Bruce Herbelin-Earle (Shorty Hunt), Wil Coban (Jim McMillan), Thomas Stephen Varey (Johnny White), Joel Phillimore (Gordy Adam), Chris Diamantopoulos (Royal Brougham), Glenn Wrage (Coach Ky Ebright), Edward Baker-Duly (Benjamin Billings), Alec Newman (Harry Rantz), Jyuddah Jaymes (Jesse Owens), Daniel Philpott (Hitler); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Grant Heslov, George Clooney; Amazon/MGM Studios; 2023)

“The team rowing scenes are just great.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A true story sports drama that’s made as a formula film with enough cliches to capsize a row boat, but its heroes are worth cheering for and the team rowing scenes are just great. It’s poetry in motion, as it allows you to feel the physical effort and what it’s like rowing for a team where every rower must be in sync with the others. It also was a thing of beauty to catch Bobby Moch (Luke Slattery), the coxswain, on the megaphone shouting out orders.

The shallow, old-fashioned story is a familiar inspirational underdog sports drama, but the opponent this time is the enemy of America. It follows the successful story of an eight-man American rowing crew that won its race in the 1936 Olympics, that was held in Hitler’s Berlin.

It’s decently directed by the actor and sometimes director George Clooney (“The Tender Bar”/”Good Night and Good Luck”), and is adequately written by Mark L. Smith. Its based on the 2013 non-fiction book by Daniel James Brown.

In 1936, the hard-ass capable straight shooter rowing coach Al Ulbrickson (Joel Edgerton) has been selected by the University of Washington to train rowers who are all from the working-class, to race for the USA in the upcoming Olympics in 1936. This sport has always only attracted Ivy Leaguers and those from the privileged class.

Included in the recruitment group is the talented but troublesome oarsman Joe Rantz (Callum Turner, Brit actor), who only signs up for the pay and room & board.

The film gives us the requisite training scenes that has coach give Joe tough love so he conforms to the rigid rules of the program without getting bounced from the squad. There’s also the obligatory romance usually found in these type of films. Here it’s a dull romance between Joe and the feisty wealthy student, Joyce Simdars (Hadley Robinson).

There’s a touching scene where the Brit boat builder, George Pocock (Peter Guinness), adds a touch of kindness and wisdom, as he gently converses with Joe at a time he’s in need of both life and boat lessons.

There’s also an emotional but awkward reuniting scene between Joe and his alcoholic dad (Alec Newman), who with Joe’s stepmother abandoned him when he was a youngster. Joe’s real mom died when he was 4.

After a string of victories in qualifying races the Huskies head to the Berlin Olympics, and the rest is history.

If you wanted to know some invaluable rowing techniques for racing, you get it here. You also get a film like they used to make them. Clooney smartly juices up the racing scenes and keeps the visuals splashy, making it an easy watch if you are into undemanding sport dramas that hit all the beats in blending together themes of patriotism, sports, underdogs and upward class mobility.

REVIEWED ON 12/31/2023  GRADE: B