********* 7 out of 10 *********
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Actors: Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons
The story of Jesse Owens is filled with enough material to turn it into a three-part movie. He’s not only an American hero, but a global champion, an athlete who rose against all odds to attain unimaginable heights. For the newer generations who have new sporting heroes of their own, it ain’t a bad idea to go back in time and showcase once more the exploits of Jesse Owens. Race gives us that leisure of walking back in time, meeting the amiable Jesse Owens, learning of his predicaments, getting inspired by his dedication to be great at his work, and the best part, watching him run. Jesse Owens’ story is so meaty that the movie’s wheels keep on spinning on their own, though some part of it should have been trimmed down to make it more compact, and that is where Race, even though it is a wonderful watch, does not quite make it to the league where Jesse Owens himself belongs.
Writers Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse must have had a field day in picking out those areas of Jesse Owens’ life that had to be part of their screenplay. In hindsight, they picked a bit too much. Jesse Owens’ financially tough background, his relationship with his girlfriend that had its turmoils, his relationship with his coach at Ohio State University – Larry Snyder, the racial discrimination he was facing in his own country, his confusion on the proposed boycott of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and his glorious achievements in Berlin watched over by an annoyed Hitler, everything finds room in Race. As if his own life story wasn’t overwhelming enough, the movie has long sequences reserved for the American Olympic organizations debating on whether to boycott the Olympics or not. Too many incidents picked from that period dilute the effectiveness with which a Jesse Owens story could have been told.
Director Stephen Hawkins however does capture the spirit of Jesse Owens quite splendidly. With an absolutely amazing performance, actor Stephan James gives us a heartwarming portrayal of the great athlete, showing him as affable and humble, but determined and conscious of his strengths. The race sequences will grab your attention even though they are brief in their duration; Hawkins allows the moment itself to work its magic without giving it any superfluous touch, while James carries the focused look of a runner who knows no barriers when he is on the running track. The music by Rachel Portman, especially for the races, is energetic, vibrant, and in sync with the mood of the movie.
Jason Sudeikis, in a rare serious role, is surprisingly quite good as the coach Larry Snyder. He carries the enthusiasm and excitement of someone who knows the potential that Jesse Owens holds and wants to see that being achieved. Jason Sudeikis and Stephan James strike a wonderful partnership on-screen, well-balanced and mature where the mutual respect is quite evident. Shanice Banton is charming as Owens’ girlfriend, Ruth, while Jeremy Irons is fantastic as the striking and imposing Avery Brundage who is against the ban of the 1936 Olympics. The rest of the supporting cast is splendid too, and William Hurt especially leaves a mark even in his brief appearance as the president of the Amateur Athletic Union.
Race may not feature in the greatest sports movie list, but it is the story of one of the greatest athletes to have ever walked on our planet, and to catch a glimpse of that man’s life is a good enough reason to watch this movie. Race shows us more than just a glimpse though and with Stephan James’ splendid portrayal, it is well worth our time.