Sometimes when you talk to someone who’s not into sports, they question why you like it. I mean, if you’re not playing it, what’s the fun in watching? Sure I could explain the amazing athletic feats they exhibit or the unscripted plays that still boggle the mind. But the real example of what makes sports special is how it impacts culture and society. One of the strongest examples of this significance is Jesse Owens and “Race.”
To preface I must admit that I don’t know that much about Jesse Owens. Sure I understand what he accomplished along with his friendship with Carl Long but overall I can’t comment on the historical accuracy of the film. Although I’m sure some of it is exaggerated, I will overall assume the movie did extensive research…which appears to be the case anyways.
“Race” takes us from Owens’ time at Ohio State through the 1936 Olympics. As you would expect there are a lot of racial undertones even in the Buckeye State. Owens doesn’t have to go far without being reminded that African-Americans are not accepted in society but with the help of Coach Larry Snyder, Jesse is able to focus on the track.
We see Owens go through the highs and lows of his college career as he breaks plenty of records before personal issues take him down a peg. Combine that with pressure from the NAACP to not compete in the Olympics and the protagonist feels the weight of his race squarely on his own shoulders. But, as you would expect, he perseveres and fights his way to the 36 Olympics in Berlin.
One thing this movie does not shy from is detail and that is very apparent in their depiction of Germany. Even years before the games, they stress the importance of this event. The questioning of whether Americans should even compete gets highlighted right away but disappears for a while before the latter stages. Yet when Jesse Owens arrives in Berlin, the cinematography is great as you feel like you are in the 30s.
The Olympic events themselves are cool with the 2 best moments being Carl “Luz” Long helping out Owens as well as the Relay Race won by the Americans. Personally I got excited during these events and you really feel thrilled when Jesse wins another Gold Medal. Frankly that’s what you want in a movie about Jesse Owens’ accomplishments.
Overall the acting was good especially with Stephan James as the American hero. While soft-spoken at points, he portrays a deeper and more complex Owens which has a greater impact. When it comes to Jason Sudeikis as Coach Larry Snyder, sometimes I was worried I couldn’t take him seriously enough. However his relationship with Jesse is a great constant and you get some classic Sudeikis’ humor along the way. Couple that with a strong performance from Carice van Houten and you’re left with a solid cast.
When it comes to the film’s weaknesses, it has to be that there is too much going on. While I appreciate the depth of Owens, the love story is a bit much and felt unnecessary. Also Avery Brundage’s story jumped around the place. Yes it was strong early on but then he disappears for half the movie before coming back with mixed results at the end. Also the movie drags at points so it feels a bit overdone. Sure I appreciate the research and effort they put together but sometimes less is more (and this includes some of the special effects…).
In the end “Race” is exactly what it’s supposed to be. With little prior knowledge about Jesse Owens’ story, I felt like the film gave me a lot of information I did not know about such an important American athlete. The cinematography does a great job of keeping it a period peace along with a good side story about the film making from that Olympics. By the conclusion, the hero’s triumphs have the desired impact on the viewer but be prepared to have some storylines miss the mark. While the “Race” may be long, the journey is still enjoyable.