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United we Overcome - The Boys in the Boat

United we Overcome - The Boys in the Boat

This Christmas season offers an opportunity for families to come together at the theater to find inspiration and hope in George Clooney’s new film, The Boys in the Boat. It’s been a long while since there has been a film that can appeal to all members of a family—young and old—without excessive violence, sex, or annoying animated creatures. Not only is this film for all audiences, but it is good storytelling! Based on the book by Daniel James Brown, who learned of the story from a neighbor who invited him to meet his dad, Joe Rantz, the film centers on Joe's character as it tells of the pre-WWII University of Washington’s eight-man crew who overcome all odds to become the best rowers in the world. The team shows what hard-working Americans are made of who have nothing to lose as they head to the 1936 Berlin Olympics and there defy Hitler’s expectations. Clooney’s film adaptation portrays the perseverance and dogged determination that is the heart of the American spirit. He sees the film as an occasion to unite people in our common humanity, saying, “We’re at a moment in time…where we’re divided, and we’re divided for a million reasons, but we forget that we are so much better when we’re together.”


The Boys in the Boat follows the life of Joe Rantz (Callum Turner) who, abandoned by his poor family at fourteen, scrapes by to go to college for engineering just as the Great Depression hits industrialized cities and farming communities alike. He seeks work unsuccessfully in between studies while living in an abandoned car but perseveres even as the university demands payment. 


Photo credit: Laurie Sparham © 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Coach Al Ulbrickson (Joel Edgerton) becomes pressured by the University of Washington to produce a record-breaking crew team. Unlike his counterparts at Harvard, University of California and Penn State, Coach Al has less money and fewer trained crew. But putting out a call for tryouts, he took his chances on picking a whole new JV team. Joe learns of the rowing tryouts and that if one makes the team, he has an income-paying job and a place to live. Joe tries out only so he can find a way to pay his tuition. “Eight-man crew,” Coach Al in the movie says, “is the most difficult team sport in the world. The average human body is just not meant for such things.” Joe and his friend Roger Morris (Sam Strike) seek one of the eight seats on the boat out of the hundreds of young men who try out. After days of extreme training, they make the team and realize that crew is much more than a physical sport. It requires mental and emotional abilities to be perfectly in sync with the other crew members. 


Joe meets a girl from his past only to reconnect once again as young adults. Joyce (Hadley Robinson) gives Joe the motivation to make something of his life. When he sees his father in town and discovers that he has been in Washington for years instead of California where his wife and younger siblings are, Joe confronts him. Angry and hurt at his father’s abandonment, Joe receives no sympathy or apology. The resentment pours out into his everyday tasks, risking his rowing opportunity and the ability to relate to his teammates and to Joyce. Every great person needs a mentor. Joe finds that in George (Peter Guinness), the master boat craftsman who pulls him in to create the team’s victory boat while teaching him about life and forgiveness. Joe learns that he must face the challenges of his past to persevere into the future. “That determination, that grit, and desire and ultimately respect for yourself,” says Turner, “is the one thing that impressed me the most [about Joe]. I want to take Joe away with me and keep him inside me so hopefully people see I want that too.”


Photo credit: Laurie Sparham © 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Coach Al sees Joe’s tremendous abilities, but they can only be brought to light when united with his teammates. Together, a team of sons of loggers, farmers, and factory workers, go up against the wealthiest and most endowed teams in the US and then in the world. When you are at the bottom, the only way to go is up! “It’s an underdog story that resonates with all of us,” says Joel Edgerton, “we all feel like we lack courage to achieve certain things…[and] when we see an underdog story, we see ourselves in the story.” The film portrays the best of humanity when endowed with values and virtues that support human dignity, integrity, and perseverance even when life only seems to offer heartache and despair. Virtue lifts us out of the darkness and sets us into the path of the light. It takes personal determination to achieve excellence but also awareness of the need for community. Only united with others can human beings rise above the oppressive circumstances of life to find faith, hope and greatness of spirit. 


Photo credit: Laurie Sparham © 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

This is a great film to watch as a family and to discuss how together we can achieve the impossible with God. 







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