Stephen Hopkins’ Race, a French-German-Canadian Co-Production, is a somewhat standard biopic that tells the story of Jesse Owens (played by Stephan James), and his quest to become the world’s greatest track and field athlete. After being trained by Coach Larry Snyder (played by Jason Sudeikis), he finds himself on the world stage of the 1936 Olympics. In this context, Jesse is up against Adolph Hitler and his racist ideologies, which threaten to tear him apart. Due to this conflict, he has to decide whether or not he should actually go to the Olympics. While this is happening, we intersect with scenes of Avery Brundage, (played by Jeremy Irons) a well off American envoy, who is trying to negotiate a compromise with Hitler’s political party, the Third Reich, so as to avoid a boycott over Jesse Owen’s participation in the Olympics. Race may be a very simply told story, but its good performances and compelling story, make it even more enjoyable than expected.
Race’s title actually has two meanings. The first, obviously, refers to the Olympics and the running race Owens is involved in, and the second meaning, of course, has to do with Jesse Owens and the prejudice he receives on the field because of his race,and being an African American athlete. Stephan James’ plays Owens as a fiercely stubborn and persistent runner who wants to be the best. James’ performance is somewhat cautious, and while he seems to lack a huge amount of dramatic depth in the role, he is, nonetheless, very good. Comedian Jason Sudeikis, as Coach Larry Snyder, is a bit of the odd duck in the film. While he is basically very good in the role, it does feel like he’s trying too hard with a little too much brooding and seriousness, as if to remind the audience that he’s not playing his usual funny role with comic relief. When he delivers lines, like “no room on the team for us”, all I can think of to myself is here is a serious Sudeikis who wants to seen as a serious actor, playing a serious role, very seriously. The rest of the cast is pretty good as well, with Jeremy Irons as Avery Brundage, who spends most of his scenes talking a lot to Germans, and William Hurt, as a racist coach, being the standouts.
The direction by Stephen Hopkins is fine. There are some slow-motion scenes, such as when Coach Snyder is telling Jessie if he hears voices from outside the stadium, and Coach Snyder’s voice slows down, then the scenes switch almost automatically back and forth. Another example of this, whenever Jessie is running, the scenes will literally go silent just before the races are about to begin. The running scenes, in general, are quite exhilarating, and are the highlights of the film, even if they don’t take up much of the film’s screen time, and don’t appear until about half-way through the film.
I especially liked the musical score by Rachel Portman. While a lot of the music is very inspirational-sounding, I quite liked the dark and sinister music for the Nazis, however the music that plays when Jessie Owens walks onto the Olympic running field is oddly somewhat dark sounding as well, and then it builds to an epic rushing piece, eventually.
What’s unusually odd about Race, which I didn’t particularly care for, is just how weirdly edited it is, at least in the first half. Scenes sometimes cut from one to the other, and some of them feel oddly out of place. An example of this is when Jessie Owens and Coach Snyder are talking, and the film cuts to a shot of Avery Brundage standing before some Germans. While this sort of thing wouldn’t normally bother me, the editing is done so abruptly that I can’t help but notice it.
Surprisingly, the film doesn’t explore the race angle as much as you would expect. Instead, it goes for more of a quasi-inspirational film, with some thriller elements thrown in. There are some race issues addressed in the film, but if this issue had been developed more, it might have made the movie a bit more interesting in the story department. That said, overall, Race is a solid biopic. It does tackles some major themes, and the direction, acting, musical score, and settings all make it worthwhile for at least one viewing experience.
On a separate note, I’ve been writing film reviews for the Catamount Arts Blog now for the past two and a half years as part of my Internship experience in the Lyndon State College English Department’s Film Studies major. It has been a really fun experience for me, and I’ll definitely miss it, but sometimes you’ve gotta move on. Farewell to all and here’s the beginning of my new blogging adventure. I hope you stop by and let me know how you like it: http://dandavisddd.blogspot.com/
Long Live The Cinema!!!