By midlandsmovies, Jun 6 2016 08:32PM
Race (2016) Dir. Stephen Hopkins
The story of black athlete Jesse Owens and his struggles against racism, family and eventually the entire world at the 1936 Berlin Olympics is the focus of this new film from Stephen Hopkins who also made the biographical The Life & Death of Peter Sellers.
Stephan James gives a winning turn as Jesse Owens, a talented young athlete from a poor background who makes it to Ohio State University where he is mentored by trainer Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis). Sudeikis is probably one of the most slap-able men in movies but is surprisingly good here with perhaps his best performance – especially in a dramatic role - I've ever seen him give.
The period dress, costumes and locations are excellent but a slight overuse of CGI to recreate 1930s streets, buildings and skylines, as well as some “fake” crowds, are stylised akin to Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Why they bother with this rather than an augmented shot is beyond me but The Panic Room-lite location titles were a better touch.
As Owens fights institutionalised racism at his college (and the public at large), the American Olympic Committee discuss the politics of boycotting the Summer Games.
Jeremy Irons as (future International Olympic President) Avery Brundage plays the sceptical American who receives assurances of Nazi pledges of non-discrimination whilst clashing with William Hurt as Jeremiah Mahoney who supports a boycott. After visiting Europe, Irons’ character soon sees the duplicity of his German hosts (notably Goebbels) and the USA eventually agree to take part.
The segregation and racism is an abhorrent echo to the cruel realism of the past and Owen faces tough choices with his family and his fame. Side stories on German’s film propagandist "Leni" Riefenstah and Owens’ friendship with Carl Ludwig "Luz" Long flesh out the narrative with added historical events.
After Luz helped Owens qualify for the long jump (by moving his mark) and then congratulating him (in front of Hitler no less) Owens once said, “You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn't be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment”. A phenomenal part of history.
From the back of a bus to a national (and international) icon, Owens begins to understand what his controversial participation in the games means to different communities but with fellow athlete Eulace Peacock’s support, he decides to go and “stick it up Hitler’s ass”.
I write this on the weekend of Muhammad Ali’s passing – another iconic athlete whose career was equally mired in topics of race – and the issues the film raises seem eerily prescient and brought a tear to my eye being with its emphasis on a story of hope. Owens’ legacy is far longer than the races he ran but his journey in fighting for what was right and ultimately changing others' attitudes is an important one captured here in a fine film.
With Creed, Concussion, The Program and now this, 2016 has provided a wealth of sports films for fans and Race is a movie that makes you want to read more on a subject which is a rare commodity. Breaking track and field records alongside breaking barriers in America, I recommend you take a chance with this winning film as, despite its shortcomings, is one worth investing your soul in.
Midlands Movies Mike