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The Boys in the Boat: Book vs. Movie

Release Date: January 2, 2024

Category: Blog | Book Club | Film | Movies

When movie producers adapt a book, the results can be mixed. What did Book Club Claire think of Hollywood’s latest adaptation of The Boys in the Boat?

It is pretty rare for a movie to surpass its source material. Many books are hundreds of pages, have dozens of primary and secondary characters (if not more), and weave plot points and events knowing that the reader will be spending hours digesting the text.

Movies don’t have that luxury. And while some (Dune, The Lord of the Rings trilogy) really take the material and make it soar, The Boys in the Boat unfortunately did not join those ranks.

That’s not saying it’s a bad movie. I went and saw it over the Christmas break along with many Olympics fans, and director George Clooney does a nice job getting viewers invested in the story of the University of Washington men’s rowing team that represented the United States in the 1936 Olympics.

Unfortunately, because author Daniel James Brown did such a masterful job writing his book, it means that many layers needed to be taken out to make the movie. The story, which actually starts in 1934 with a group of talented freshmen and goes through 1936 with an experienced group of veterans going to Berlin, was shortened to make it a 1-year miracle run. I noticed that almost immediately and was not a fan.

Several of the rowers that got more play in the book also didn’t get as much screen time, or their arcs were cut in favor of providing Joe Rantz’s story more time to shine. Rantz’s story was very good, and star Callum Turner did a fantastic job portraying him on screen. But many of the other rowers were limited to just being more boys in the boat.

I did very much enjoy the rowing scenes, and the fact that the actors portraying the team actually learned how to row and are actually putting in the effort on the water for the most part. I appreciated that Clooney showed how trains were used to pull spectators so they could view the entire race from start to finish. (I wish they would still do that now!)

My biggest recommendation is watch the movie first, and then read the book. As you read, then it will help you place faces with names and set the scenes in your head. But you’ll also be able to fill in all the missing details that Brown masterfully spins into his narrative, and finish the book with a complete and satisfactory look at how a group of collegiate rowers shocked the world in Hitler’s backyard.

–Book Club Claire