As a director, George Clooney has consistently been fascinated with relatively obscure chapters of American history. His latest film, an adaptation of New York Times best-seller The Boys in the Boat, is a continuation of an ongoing partnership with Amazon Studios, and examines a lesser-known detail of the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
“When you think about the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the big story was Jesse Owens, you know? But that’s been committed to cinema before and wonderfully,” Australia’s own Joel Edgerton, who portrays legendary rowing coach Al Ulbrickson, recently explained to BH.
“I’d never heard of the story of Joe Rantz and the boys, and when I did hear about it, I was like, ‘Oh… why have you never heard this? There are so many great sporting stories that when you hear them, you’re like, ‘Oh, that’d obviously make a great film.'”
The underdog tale recounts the moment the aforementioned Joe Rantz (portrayed by Callum Turner) and the University of Washington’s working-class junior rowing crew toppled the nation’s blue-blooded hegemony on the sport; eventually finding themselves at the highest possible stage racing against the world’s elite backed by nothing more than pure merit.
Certainly not bad for a bunch of blokes who only began competing just for shelter and three square meals a day at a time when neither was abundant (against the backdrop of the Great Depression).
Edgerton continues: “If you’re a rower, The Boys in the Boat is a big touchstone book and story. It’s just one of those things… I think the fact that the final race is the finals at the Olympics in front of Hitler kind of makes you go, ‘Oh, yeah.’ I mean, as George [Clooney] said, ‘Who doesn’t like a movie where someone puts Hitler in his place?'”
“That’s one of the interesting things about Joe Rantz and a few of the boys — their life plan wasn’t to become successful rowers. Their life plan was just to eat food and have a roof over their head and not die of poverty.”
“And the means, to that end, joining this rowing team; if you could do that and get a boarding house to live in, and then I think there’s sort of this nothing-to-lose aspect to them keeping their place in the boat.”
While at times, you feel as though you’ve seen this story being played out a million times before, there are moments when you can’t help but feel uplifted by the triumph of the human spirit; and even feel swept up in the old-fashioned can-do attitude.
“They were just so formidable and built for it that they found themselves going on this very long journey of various victories, sort of defying the odds.”
“There’s something cool about it. What’s strange about it as a sports movie too is that it’s not about so much winning and losing. It’s about the fact that every step of the way they were expected to fail, to not win, and to fail, and they just kept doing it,” added Joel Edgerton.
“It’s there to be related to, for anyone who feels like they’ve got the odds stacked against them and anything… We all like to see people who don’t have much defy the odds.”
“It’s always been associated with more blue-blooded schools, for whatever reason, there are certain sports that you feel like they’re meant for a certain sphere of society and everyone else can just watch them if they’re lucky.”
“So the idea that this wasn’t really a rowing school, I mean, they had a rowing program, but they weren’t… they were ever meant to be winners. It makes you sort of get behind them, you know?”
The Boys in the Boat is now screening in Aussie cinemas.