Starring Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, William Hurt, Carice van Houten, Shanice Banton
The title “Race” is meant to imply both the action Jesse Owen claimed Olympic gold to, and the discrimination he faced getting there. Race debuts at a truly opportune time, following the controversy surrounding the 2015 awards race. While the lack of diversity might be the focus of this years’ Oscar race, it certainly has no bearing on what’s playing at the cinema. Race is this years’ McFarland USA, but with a much larger scope and historical reach. The triumphant journey of Jesse Owens, the racial discrimination stateside and the near boycott of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin are basically three very dramatic and expansive narratives rolled into one film which is written, directed and staring mostly television stars.
Nearly the moment Jesse Owens (James) stepped foot on the Ohio State campus, he was swooped up by track and field coach Larry Snyder (Sudeikis). In fact, Owens chose Ohio simply because of Snyder and his near Olympic reach. His speed on the field wasn’t the only thing getting attention, the color of his skin created additional noise he would have to tune out. His record breaking speed across the country made him a frontrunner to represent The United States in the upcoming Olympics, to be held in Berlin. Owens became caught in a moral dilemma, to boycott the Olympics because the Nazi’s were treating Jews similar to the way black people were treated in America, or to attend and show the world what a black athlete from Alabama can accomplish.
It’s the heart of the story that nearly overcomes the narrative and structural problems that plague the script.
Despite the lack of acclaimed filmmakers working on Race, it’s the heart of the story that nearly overcomes the narrative and structural problems that plague the script. Director Stephen Hopkins (Californication/24) has a lot of information and history to cover in this feature. The screenwriters seem torn between following a traditional uplifting sports narrative and the many dark aspects to all 3 of the intertwined stories inside Race. While Sudeikis is pure delight in his first dramatic role, there are no stand out or award worthy performances here. Typically the problem with filmmakers transitioning from television is scope, but Race is a near epic being set smack in the middle of The Nazi’s extravagant Olympic Games.
The way Race compares racism in two vastly different countries is completely unique and fascinating. While there is so much to learn and understand, the vast amounts of information and feelings the viewer will have is a bit overwhelming due to the culmination of intersecting narratives. For example, do we cheer or focus on Owens breaking records and winning gold medals or this new German friend he has just made and the ramifications of that. Or what about the divisive misdoings of Avery Brundage (Irons) whose characters and back dealings are never fully explored. There is just so much going on in Race that the two hour film is bursting at the seams. Better editing, a longer running time to explore more of the characters and scenarios would have improved its impact greatly.
A triumphant story with so many aspects it almost suffocates from too much content.