As a director, George Clooney is fond of period pieces and with the fact-based “The Boys in the Boat,” the Oscar-winning multihyphenate has done something radical.
Clooney, 62, has adapted the best-selling Daniel James Brown novel about the University of Washington rowing team that triumphed at Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics by making it as if this is 1930s inspirational tale.
“He’s always been a classicist,” noted Variety critic Owen Gleiberman in a rave review, praising “the thrillingly shot races.”
Clooney scored a black-and-white hit with “Good Night and Good Luck,” about journalist Edward R. Murrow taking on ‘50s McCarthyism, and had another bullseye with “The Monuments Men” about the American military squad assigned to retrieve stolen Nazi artworks.
“We’re just always looking for good stories,” Clooney said in a virtual press conference. “The first one we adapted was ‘Ides of March,’ from a play called ‘Farragut North.’ I think it’s fun when you could see how if they’ve written the play or the book it’s always interesting to try to find a way to make it a film. Because it’s very different storytelling.”
As for these nine men in the boat, “Yes, it’s a Depression-era story. And we’ve seen those a lot. The truth is, Washington was such a new state, was such a new part of the world, that the idea that rowing was even on the map compared to these other, sort of legacy schools,” like Harvard or Yale, was astonishing.
“So the fun part was that these young men, out of necessity, out of hunger, out of having nothing else — they were lumberjacks — they got together and, sort of like the Beatles, you put together a group of men who actually could be good enough to win the Olympics.
“It’s like getting your third best songwriter is George Harrison. It’s a magical group! And that’s sort of what happened with these guys — because they ended up having these incredible men who worked as an incredible team.”
“Boat” focuses on rower Joe Rantz (Callum Turner) and his love for Hadley Robinson’s college student Joyce.
“I have to say about Hadley, the actress,” Clooney said. “It’s a tricky thing to do a period piece, which is a different style of acting. I’ve been lucky enough over the years to work with some young actresses when they were just hitting their stride: Shailene Woodley, Anna Kendrick.
“Hadley has all of these same qualities and she knows exactly what’s required. There isn’t a bunch of film of Joyce, so she had to create a lot of this. What she took from the book and when she took just whatever, she figured out how to make that character so bold.
“When I’m sitting in the editing room, it makes life so easy when you’re working with an actress of her caliber.”
“The Boys in the Boat” opens Dec. 25
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