Directed by Stephen Hopkins
Written by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse
Starring: Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, Carice van Houten, and William Hurt
“Race” is a biopic of legendary Olympian Jesse Owens that makes full use of its double entendre-laced title, not all double entendres are risqué. All double entendres do have two meanings. The title “Race” refers to both a race that is run and race the social construct. The theme of race is one that runs throughout the entire film. Well, exploring racism in early 20th century America is expected of a movie taking place during this period, so “Race” would be no exception. The interesting thing about “Race” is that it subtly implies that Jim Crow is not too far removed from what the Nazis were doing. There is a scene in which Owens is talking with a German competitor and the German states that they are better off in America, and Owens implies that, at least from his perspective as an African American, they are not that much better off than in Germany. “Race” does avoid comparing Jim Crow to Nazism outright, but the implication that those two ideologies are not too far off from each other is prevalent in the subtext of the last half of the movie that takes place at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Owens played by Stephan James, who gives an excellent performance. James carries the movie from the starting gun to the finish line. James is not the only standout in the movie, Jason Sudeikis, who plays Owens coach from Ohio State University, also delivers a strong performance. The scenes that Sudeikis and James share together are the highlights of the movie. James and Sudeikis had fantastic chemistry together.
At 134 minutes the movie does feel a little long. There are things that can be cut from the movie between the 1935 Ann Arbor Big Ten track meet and the Olympics. The Ann Arbor meet is an important part of Owens’ story; there he set three world records in 45 minutes. And when talking about Jesse Owens you need to talk about the 1936 Olympics. After the Ann Abor meet everything that does not have to do with the Olympics is not necessary, and all it does is drag out the movie.
“Race” is a great sports movie and a decent biopic, but it is not as great as its ambitions are. The movie has great subtext about race in America, but like “Unbroken” the film surrounding these ambitions is not on the level that it could – or – should have been. Between the subtext and the strong performances, “Race” is more than worth the watch.