George Clooney returns to the nostalgia well to out-MAGA MAGA

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo

The Boys in the Boat
Opens Dec. 25
3 out of 5

George Clooney believes in America — not the jingoistic, exclusionist version half the country so lamentably worships. Instead, he’s made it his mission to remind his compatriots what made the U.S. great in the first place: integrity (Good Night, and Good Luck), loyalty (The Tender Bar), and nobility of purpose (The Monuments Men). Whether you buy into the premise or not is irrelevant. He believes it, and crafts his movies accordingly.

Based on heavily sanitized real-life events, The Boys in the Boat is set in the mid 1930s as the Great Depression continues to ravage the working class. Struggling to pay his tuition, University of Washington student Joe Rantz (Callum Turner, the Fantastic Beasts saga) tries out for the school’s rowing team for food, lodging and a stipend. The trials to win one of nine spots on the boat are gruelling, the training just as brutal, but the hunger these junior varsity athletes feel (literal and figurative) turns the squad into a force to be reckoned with.

The Boys is your classic sports underdog story, where the adversaries are stand-ins for entitlement, affluence and privilege. The film is reminiscent of 1990s era Robert Redford (The Horse Whisperer, A River Runs Through It): glossy, lush, nostalgic, and designed for audiences in the American heartland. For the same reason, there isn’t much depth. Spot the tropes: the coach is a hard ass with a heart of gold (Joel Edgerton), both Joe’s best friend (Sam Strike) and girlfriend (Hadley Robinson) exist only to orbit around him, etc.

This being a George Clooney movie, Nazis take a beating, this time at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Nothing wrong with that. They’re getting too cocky. ■