True Blue (1996) Poster

(1996)

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7/10
Not as bad as it could be - but lacking a certain something all the same.
lowfield11 January 1999
Based on the true story of an American at Oxford swearing to overcome defeat in the 1986 Boat Race (Oxford's first defeat to Cambridge in 11 years) by returning the following year with some international colleagues and the resultant "mutiny" when they refuse to follow the coach's training schedules.

The film is a fictionalised account and comes down firmly (as did the book on which it is based) on the side of chief coach Dan Topolski and OUBC President Donald MacDonald. It's not a half bad attempt at telling a story with a good bash at both trying to underline the importance in the old universities of the boat race and the physical demands the race makes.

The rowing is reasonably portrayed too, using real oarsmen as their opposition and with the actors having been taught to row by Topolski, but sometimes the continuity is lost and there are mistakes aplenty if you really try to go looking for them!

It's not a film that challenges, but it does entertain - although how much it entertains a dry-bob is the big question!
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'frigates of fire' might be exaggerating a bit
rogierr19 August 2001
Rowing is a lot harder and satisfactory than running, and not only because of the physics, but also because of the team building style that can pre-eminently make or break a winning team. 'True Blue' is not a 'Chariots of fire' with it's David Watkin (Catch-22) cinematography and Vangelis (Blade Runner) score, but as I like rowing a lot better than running, this was a good film for me, especially because I started rowing in 1996. The film is not only appealing for the English or Americans, but also for the Dutch. The reason for that might be the Dutch victory in the 1996 Olympic Boat Race (and remember: no points for second place). These 'Holland Acht' guys must have seen this film the day before.

Another good point of this movie is the absence of religious interference with the urge to perform, and the presence of struggle for influence between coaches and rowers. Apart from the infighting that's what is concerning rowers most. 'War is not about who's right, but about who's left (in the boat)'. 'True blue' is definitely more than a simple tv-movie for rowers. Credit to cinematographer Brian Tufano (Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Quadrophenia, Lords of discipline).

Accordingly, I have to rate both movies 8/10
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8/10
Excellent film of an exciting human story, marred by some complexity
formica-223 February 1999
Quite definitely the best film ever made about rowing (admittedly out of a poor field of competitors), 'True Blue' vividly conveys the striving for physical perfection and the stress of selection and training for the hardest rowing race in the word. The sheer bloody-mindedness, obstinacy and ambition needed to do well in such a sport spill over into the vicious personal relationships of this story, where the harsh sacrifices made mean that little quarter is given to those with whom you disagree and rival strongly opinionated tribes grow up, all with some right on their side. The bleak mood of the film is set straightaway with the picture of a lonely sculler training on a remote, snow-swept wind-blown loch. The film is visually poetic, using the real and truly beautiful venues used for the training in a matchless mix of colours and varying weather. Fairfax uses a good script, which nonetheless could have done with one more re-write to clarify the large cast of characters involved. The spectator comes away wondering also if some of the film's faults may not be due to back-pedaling over the real details of story to avoid legal action, which led to the changes of name of all but the two main characters. The soaring triumph of the spirit shown the final race in savage racing conditions is well worth waiting for, ably urged on by the sound track music. Some good cameo parts add to the overall pleasure of this film.
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I prefer a happy ending
nick suess3 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I had read the book many years ago, and saw the movie for the first time last night. This is the story of the 1987 Boat Race (NOT 1986), and many who were close to those events have claimed the book inhabits something of a world of fiction. Regardless of whether or not that is true, the movie most certainly does, suffering acutely from two problems. The first is trying to dramatise a real-life story but not be sued out of existence by those portrayed as less than perfect in character, especially if they are Americans, and the second is needing actors to acquire specialist skills in a very short space of time. So the rowing scenes looked pretty awful, except for the long-range shots with real rowers, and they didn't even attempt to make sure they sourced equipment of the correct era. But to the non-rower, apart from Topolski and McDonald, everyone else seemed to be a cardboard cut-out of someone else. And then there were the accents. I have never met McDonald, but thought he was a Scot, not an upper-class Englishman. I have met Topolski, whose famous artist father Feliks was Polish, but left there ten years before Dan's birth. I think Dan was born in Britain, and certainly sounds as British as can be, so why cast a Belgian to play him with a Polish accent? I am a rower, and also a Cambridge man. Ultimately, since they were going to play so extremely fast and loose with the events of 1987, why couldn't they also depict a happy ending, with Oxford as gallant losers, but Cambridge well out in front????
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8/10
From the Coxswain's Seat...
tazioratnayeke22 August 2006
I do not wish to contradict or to differ with any pundits on the cinematography of this movie and most certainly I have no wish to disagree with the views of fellow brothers of the blade.... yet there is an aesthetic side to this movie.

Rowing, especially highly competitive rowing steeped in tradition, is a concept that can be understood only by those who have actually tasted the bitter gourd of defeat in a race and savoured its hard won victories. That is the essential of this movie.

Indeed the mistakes are fallacious, and sometimes appalling pathetic, especially for those who know their blade work. However despite the blatant technical errors so obvious to a trained eye, as a story that inspires, this fills a much needed void.

As a coxswain, its slightly different to the ones portrayed in the movie. Contrary to popular belief, in some parts of the world where there are traditional races like the Ox-Bridge where old rivals train eleven months of the year for just a single course down, we're not just dead weights in the boat. We actually have to do all the fitness that guys a foot taller and twice our weight have to do, only on one meal a day for weight reasons. Basically everything, ergo, weights, runs etc... except the water training. I found that the camaraderie that I shared with my crews, a thing all coxes will agree with me, was sadly missing in this movie. The 'coxing' in the final race was rather timid to say the least. Although I do confess, in the absence of something better this was a good phyche-up movie to watch before the races.

What I did like about the movie is what it showed. The politics and the desperation to win is universal in every crew. The characters, heroes, villains and bystander can be related to by any oarsman. The best and most profound scene in the whole film, is not on the water, but at the meeting of the boat halls and the priest's take on what rowing for an institution is. That summarises the ethos for many of us. "We are servants to put in, not masters to take out. We owe that to all those before us and those who will come after us." In a Boat Races, to be second is to be last. It is a nightmare from the fall of the flag to the final line. This film shows what an oarsman goes through. Not as brutal as the reality but it is a glimpse never the less. Lines that seem cool yet speak volumes for those who have 'been there' are: "We need good men....not just good oarsmen..." "No one put a reserve sign on your seat...." "You can hear the boat sing...." "....make them feel like they came third...." "It's what we do to win the boat race...." What it shows, what no other film can show is the harmony of a team, and the determination and self sacrifice to win.

For an oarsman who has faced the pain and the exhilaration of victory, this film will break a smile, not a cheer. Yet for the world that has not faced it, its a peek at an oarsman's world.

Remis Insurgite!!!

Tazio Ratnayeke
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missed opportunity
AlexV-410 June 1999
The real problem with this is that the full story--or whatever the book of "True Blue" purports to be--is already mind-bendingly complicated. There's no way this story was ever going to make it to film without being seriously mangled, and sadly, that's what happened. The script is plain awful, and the editing doesn't help.
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Pretty to look at, but that's all.
praemius7 April 1999
"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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2/10
They're not rowing, they're killing fish
CenterD5016 April 2006
Not only is it a poorly told story, with terrible directing and acting as others have pointed out, but the rowing in this movie is actually quite bad. There are a few helicopter/crane shots of actual Cambridge and Oxford crews rowing, but it's obvious that these were taken outside the context of the movie. While the actors seem to have had some coaching and practice before shooting started, it couldn't be more than a few weeks. Their technique is horrendous, even in the Boat Race sequence. For people that speak the language, expect missed catches, washing out, bodies flying everywhere, coxswains yelling "stroke! stroke!" . . . you name it, they mess it up, and all the while the boats are perfectly on keel. Anyone who would be in The Boat Race would look much better than these fools. This movie has been a running joke in boathouses and on rowing message boards for years. If you know anything about what a rowing stroke should look like, how a coxswain calls a race, the etiquette of conversation during a seat race, or the difference between 20 and 35 strokes a minute, you will not be able to keep from laughing at this movie.
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8/10
I wish I'd seen it sooner
I_impius19 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I just caught this on DVD (2005) , and wish I'd seen it on release. I know little of the inner workings of the Blue Universities , or rowing , but of course being an Englishman always watch the boat race , and have since childhood. It was quite revealing how involved Americans are at Oxford , and the on board filming , and location shots were excellent. The first scenes showed a threat to takeover by the yanks , but slowly throughout the film the real metal of men was tested until the best comment in the movie summed it all up "It isn't great oarsman that win the boat race but great men" or words to that effect , which left the yank speechless. The whole film slowly revealed what type of man makes a good eights rower , and what is lacking in American character . A brilliant education in what it means to be British , and why we will always be superior to Americans. The one thing missing was some basic background in rowing rules , like the seat tests ? and stations ? etc.
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Left me with a sinking feeling.
sibisi7311 April 2002
Taking it's lead from the true story of the 1986 Oxford-Cambridge boat race, 'True Blue' is an attempt to convert this seemingly inconsequential event into a meaningful experience. The film fails because the relevance is only apparent to those with an interest in the subject, or those directly involved. Sure, there's an all encompassing metaphor for our ability to overcome obstacles in our path, and fight against the odds, but for that you would be better off with 'Rocky', or 'Chariots Of Fire' (which this film shamelessly rips off on more than one occasion). I don't doubt that all those involved were deeply passionate about the real story here, the people who made the victory so convincingly their own, but the film flounders due to some erratic performances, and some banal dialogue - not to mention an incredible anti-American streak throughout. It's a peculiarly English film, like the boat race itself, that will appeal to those with a vested interest and no-one else.
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