This 1986 film features a very young, buff and brawny, athletic Nicholas Cage in the role of crude Canadian backwoods bootlegger, Ned Hanlan, who turned into a legendary world class rower. Discovered by an amateur oarsman and self styled entrepreneur named Bill (David Naughton), Ned, using a new style of boat with a sliding seat, is propelled to fame when he wins a race in Philadelphia against a heavily favored contender. His win was a total upset, bringing Ned under the scrutiny of a rich man's betting syndicate, headed by a wealthy man named Knox (Christopher Plummer).
Knox, a man used to having his way by any means necessary, makes Bill an offer he can't refuse. Knox then takes over Ned's future and gets him a professional trainer in order to prepare him for major races. In the meantime, Ned and Margaret (Cynthia Dale), Knox's comely niece, begin a flirtation that ultimately turns into a romance after much angst. When Ned finally gets an opportunity to race against the Australian world champion, he discovers to his consternation and dismay just how much faith Knox has in his ability to win. What follows next causes Ned to be banned from racing in the United States.
A chastened Ned, discarded by Knox, returns home and turns to Walter, the man who invented the boat with the sliding seat. He begs Walter to train him, so that he can enter and race in England on the Thames and vindicate himself. Walter really believes in him, so he gets Knox to agree to race his current boy wonder against his, but not before Walter has proffered Knox his life's dream. When the time for the race finally comes, betrayal, treachery, and skulduggery are the keywords of the day. To find out what happens during this career making race, and to discover what comes of the romance between Margaret and Knox, one should view this film. It will not disappoint.
Christopher Plummer leads the cast with his chillingly portrayal of the rich and unprincipled Knox. Nicholas Cage attacks the role of Ned Hanlan with boyish and engaging enthusiasm, while David Naughton delights with his portrayal of Bill, the former manager and erstwhile friend. Cynthia Dale is charming in the role of Margaret, the niece who finds herself adopting the role that she was pledged to play by her uncle. The rest of the cast is likewise uniformly excellent. This entertaining and informative film about a turn of the century athlete will fully engage the viewer.