IT’S NO CHARIOTS OF FIRE, BUT ITS STORY AND STRONG PERFORMANCE BY STEPHEN JAMES ARE ENOUGH TO MAKE IT PAST THE FINISH LINE!
By Nico Beland
Movie Review: B+ (3 stars)
Stephen James as Jesse Owens in Race
From Jamaican film director, Stephen Hopkins (Predator 2, Blown Away, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers) comes Race, a biographical sports-drama based on the true story of African-American Olympics track runner, Jesse Owens who broke a record of winning four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. After seeing films like Chariots of Fire, Steven Spielberg’s Munich, and most recently McFarland, USA I don’t see why I shouldn’t check this out, judging by the trailers it felt like the 42 (the 2013 Jackie Robinson movie) of track and field sports movies, and parts of it are, but in a good way.
Besides winning the Olympics, Race also tackles several intense and important moments in our history like defeating the Nazis, discrimination, racism; you name it. Fortunately, the film represents those historic moments very well, the film is strong on character, has plenty of time to balance sports excitement with drama, and the portrayal of Jesse Owens is absolutely perfect.
The film is set in the 1930s, pre-World War II and follows a young African-American man known as Jesse Owens (Stephen James-Selma) attending college to make it big as a track and field runner at the Olympic Games so he can live happily with his wife and daughter. Jesse is supposedly a very fast runner and jumper, so he participates in the college’s track and field tryouts and catches the attention of coach, Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis-30 Rock, Horrible Bosses, We’re the Millers) who agrees to coach him so he can compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics against Adolf Hitler’s Nazis.
After long and tiresome days of training, relationships, and drama, Jesse participates in the Games in hopes of winning Gold Medals and making a big difference in a world feared by Nazi rule.
The film also stars Jeremy Irons (Die Hard With A Vengeance, The Lion King, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice) as International Olympics Committee president, Avery Brundage, William Hurt (Kiss of the Spider Woman, Children of a Lesser God, The Incredible Hulk) as Jeremiah Mahoney, Carice van Houten (Black Book, Game of Thrones, Repo Men) as German filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, and David Kross (The Reader, War Horse, Into the White) as German Olympic long-jumper, Luz Long.
Overall, Race is a very engaging film, nothing Oscar worthy but the movie manages to be entertaining and informative. Though it may not be the most accurate representation of the Jesse Owens story, so this movie might not be the best movie to study in school history classes, you’re probably better off watching a real Jesse Owens documentary.
I say that because at times, the film feels more like a traditional sports movie rather than a biographical dramatization of the real man. Granted it’s nothing necessarily bad, but it can get a little cliché at times. But what makes the film shine is Stephen James’ performance as Jesse Owens, yes it’s an actor playing him but I was almost convinced I was looking at the real Jesse Owens, the same feeling I got when I saw David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King in Selma.
Besides James’ performance, the one cast member I was actually shocked I enjoyed a lot in this type of movie was Jason Sudeikis. It’s very refreshing to see him something that isn’t a comedy because I usually associate him with comedies like Horrible Bosses or We’re the Millers, same thing I felt when I saw Jason Bateman in The Gift, and I don’t think I really need to go into much detail about William Hurt’s performance, I mean come on, he’s one of the best actors working to date.
If you’re looking for a drama that’s historically accurate to a true story, you may or may not get what you’re looking for here, but if you want a compelling story, good characters, and even greater performances, then “Race” over to your local theater and give it a watch.