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"Aawks-furrd". According to the introductory voice-over, this is where True Blue is set. It seems this was a token attempt not to completely alienate an American audience. For this is a story where poor misguided Oxford rowers draft in wicked Americans to help beat the apparently unstoppable Force Of Nature that is Cambridge University, which has been so unsporting as to actually win the last Boat Race. We are thus drawn into a picturesque but insane world where the motto is "six months' torture for a lifetime's pride". Unfortunately, we have to take part in some of the torture as rowers and coaches bitch at each other about training too much.
If the film could impart some of the ambition and dedication of top athletes to an ideal of winning (as does the book True Blue), then it would be exciting and disturbing. Similarly, if it could give an impression of their personal sacrifices it would remind us of how remarkable the Boat Race actually is in the sport of rowing. Unfortunately, the film falls between the two stools. It fails to show the personal lives of the squad beyond caricatures where bitterness and childish pranks are the norm, and therefore fails to create any sympathy with the characters; yet it also fails to do justice to the sport, showing us actors desperately trying to row as they bat up and down the boat, failing to make any impression on the boat speed except throwing up a lot of water at the camera. Rowing should be a sport that is smooth and beautiful, not rushed and convulsive.
It is only when the film stops using actors and hires real rowers, drops the clunky script (who could forget such lines as "That's unconscionable!"?) and shows us an actual race that the director's skill can come through. He has been spending the rest of the film showing us beautiful but pointless shots of the sun rising over the dreaming spires of Oxford. In this way, the portrayal of the Boat Race itself almost makes up for the excruciating moroseness of the Blue Boat squad that has been flung at us for the last hour.
In the end, if you want to see some nice shots of Oxford, see some well-built rowers in Lycra and hear a pseudo-"Chariots of Fire" soundtrack, you could watch this film. Or you could do a ten-thousand metre work session on a rowing machine, which would be shorter and less painful.
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