“Race” stumbles past the finish line


“Race” Movie Poster

Below is a review of the film “Race”. Minor details are included and are necessary for a thorough analysis. Read on at your own discretion.

Winning a gold medal at the Olympic Games is hard. Winning four is even harder. But that’s what the great Jesse Owens managed to do when he shocked the entire world as he put on one of the greatest athletic performances in the history of sports. In a time when racial tensions soared and not everyone was welcomed to participate in athletics, Owens’ story of resilience, courage and success is a testament to the power of human will and the merit of sport. “Race” effectively tells this story, but attempts to tell too many other stories simultaneously; as a result, it struggles to shed light on who Jesse Owens truly was.

Directed by Stephen Hopkins, a director who doesn’t have many blockbuster films credited to his name, “Race” recounts the phenomenal athletic career of Owens (Stephan James), beginning with his enrollment in The Ohio State University and culminating in the 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin. These games were held amidst the reign of the Nazi regime, whose aversion for non-Aryans and Anti-Semitic agenda caused an Olympic boycott which almost caused the United States to withdraw from the competition; only after underhanded agreements between Germany and the United States were they allowed to compete. Throughout his journey of successes and failures both on and off the track, Owens had his mentor and coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis) by his side, whose disregard for the status quo of racism during the time allowed the pair to thrive. Rather ironically, the intense discrimination that Owens faced both at home and abroad pushed his limits and allowed him to perform like no one had before.

In reality, the story of Jesse Owens and the state of the world at the time is a complex one; the multitude of events that took place prior to his Olympic performance were all important and collectively led to his success. However, “Race”, like other films in the historical genre, fails to recognize that only so much can be crammed into two hours and that although historical accuracy is critical, it would have been wiser to focus on the main plotline. Instead, “Race” attempts to intertwine multiple subplots with the ones that really matter: his experiences on the track and the racial discrimination he endures (as reflected in the title). Consequently, neither of these storylines, which at the end of the day is what the audience is interested in, receives the attention and development that each one deserves.

Another aspect of “Race” that diminishes the overall quality of the film is its execution of the big moments. Throughout the film and Jesse Owens’ career, there are numerous instances such as his three world records in 45 minutes at the 1935 Big Ten meet and his four Olympic gold medals that are the pinnacles of his accomplishments; therefore, they needed to be portrayed in a way that moves the audience and gives them a sense of just how extraordinary these moments were. However, a combination of awkward cinematography and a hurried pace makes these moments go by too quickly and doesn’t affect the audience the way it intends to. There are many climaxes in Jesse Owens’ life that are depicted in “Race”, but the film struggles to capture just how significant they really were.

Although “Race” does do a few things well, such as the strong performances by James, Sudeikis and the supporting cast, being mostly historically accurate and paying tribute to one of the greatest athletes who ever lived, its flaws overwhelm the film. Despite its exploration into many subplots, “Race” never really delves into who Jesse Owens truly was. It simply does a good job of telling his story and the things that he did, and is content with not going any further than that.

My rating: 6/10!