If You Want To Make A Film About Sport and Its Values, Maybe Call George Clooney

The storytelling George Clooney has done in front of the camera and behind the camera is legendary and too much to list. However one thing should be noted for these readers, the guy loves the storytelling of sports, and that’s why the Christmas Day release of The Boys In The Boat should give a sport that has always been viewed as a bit elitist…rowing…quite a lift.

For those who don’t know, the film follows the story of Daniel James Brown’s bestseller about the road to the 1936 Olympics and how a group of college athletes from the University of Washington shocked the world…and host Nazi Germany…by winning gold in the eight man boat that summer in Berlin. That is the Olympics of Louis Zamperini and Jesse Owens and Mack Robinson and how the USOC kept many Jewish athletes out of the games in deference to the games racist hosts…but it is also one of great triumph at a time when the world was heading down a very dangerous path toward World War II, and the UW rowers were a key part of that mix. There have been many books written about the 1936 Olympics and its heroes, and this film is the latest in a series…”Unbroken” being another…that brings the world today back to that time so well.

But back to Clooney and the value of sports storytelling. The native Ohioan has always seen sports as such a key theme in his work, and as a release from the day to day. In addition to starring in the vintage football film “Leatherheads,” Clooney talked this week about his allegiance to Kentucky basketball (his son is a soph in Lexington), his love of pickup basketball as a release, and the unrequited joy he has for the Olympics in three different stories. Then there are the ties to the Huskies through the film (the film has a big fan in the undefeated UW football team, whose coach loves Daniel James Brown’s book and will have his squad see the movie on December 22nd as part of their prep for their BCS semi-final matchup with the University of Texas, talk about inspiration) as well, all of which lent itself so well to the authenticity of “The Boys In The Boat.”  

So what does “Boys In The Boat,” do for anyone looking for a dose of inspiration this holiday season? Lots. It goes into the mix with those films that aspire, through sport, to teach us life lessons. Think the aforementioned “Unbreakable,” or “Hoosiers,” or “Rudy.” It brings us historic storytelling way beyond a race on a river…think “Chariots of Fire.” It gives us periodic storytelling…think “Seabiscuit.” It ties us to the Olympic ideals in a year when we are heading into Paris 2024 as well, all done because of Clooney’s understanding of the values of sport, both as a fan and as a baller, and in the way the actors (Callum Murray, Joel Edgerton, Jack Mulhern, Luke Slattery and the rest) brought us into attention to detail in their prep and execution of the sport.

“Eight as one,” is the mantra and it applies to success on the screen, on the river, in life, today as much as ever.

“The Boys In The Boat” succeeds on every level for the genre it takes on and for the audience it is trying to reach. There will be clips that will make it into locker rooms and stadia and arenas around the world that will inspire and enthrall athletes far and wide.

It is a well done team effort, led by a director who gets sports.