Movie Review: Race (2016)

Race, is a biopic centered on the life of Track & Field legend, James Cleveland Owens - known to the world as Jesse Owens - the African American athlete who captured 4 gold medals at the 1936 summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany during the Nazi regime.

The film, produced for an estimated budget of 20 million euros($22 Million dollars), is a foreign film, helmed by Jamaican-born director, Stephen Hopkins, in a collaborative venture between French movie company Forecast Pictures, Canadian production company Solofilms, and German production company Trinity Race. American company Focus Features bought the U.S. distribution rights for $5 million and is partnering with TriStar to promote and distribute the film within the United States.

Race, is the second feature length biopic based on the life and times of Jesse Owens. In this interpretation of the Track & Field superstar's life, Jesse is played by Canadian actor, Stephan James, who most recently played John Lewis in Ava Duvernay's Martin Luther King Jr. biopic, Selma.

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Weighed on biopic criterion, Race does an adequate job of rounding all the bases, by visually retelling the highlights of Owen's life historical recollection would recognize it, while filling in additional context and background - as one might expect - of the time period that is spotlighted; 1930's United States and Germany.

Stephan James turns in an adequate, respectable performance as Jesse Owens, as does Canadian actress Shanice Banton, as Owens' wife Ruth Solomon. Academy Award winners William Hurt as AAU president Jeremiah Mahoney, and Jeremy Irons as AOC president Avery Brundage, both turn in strong - albeit unmemorable - performances that could just have easily been handled by lesser known actors. Jason Sudeikis, known primarily for his comedic roles, gives a nice turn as Owens' track coach Larry Snyder, and German actor Barnaby Metschurat gives a nice look as Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. All down the line, the actors and actresses turn in solid performances, though no one stands out significantly, in either a bad or good way. Everyone hits their marks, but that is it, and that is the problem.

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It is a tricky balancing act when you are doing a biopic, trying to present the facts and events of someone's life, in both a truthful and entertaining way. Doubly so, with a world famous figure, where the biopic revisits historical events that the public already knows....or maybe just they believe they do. In this particular case, there were additional considerations which limited the scope of the material to be included. Jesse Owens daughter, Marlene Owens Rankin, who was approached several years ago by producers seeking to do a film about the Olympic legend, agreed to allow a film to be made about her father's life, but retained final script approval. If she didn't like something, it wasn't going to appear in the film.

Granted, as his daughter, of course it is her duty to ensure that her father's legacy is maintained, and treated with the dignity and respect that it deserves, and I agree it is easier to guarantee that by taking a safe conservative, by the numbers approach. The trade off is, a project that does not distinguish itself as something people are inspired to pay to see.

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As a movie-goer, and one that is fairly informed on U.S. history, I must say that I found myself a bit disengaged, as I already "knew" what was going to happen.

As a writer, I was a bit disappointed that there were so many interesting threads that were brushed over. Threads that could have made the film more engaging, such as the relationship/friendly rivalry between Jesse Owens and his 100m nemesis Eulace Peacock, or the controversy surrounding the removal of Jewish sprinters Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman - which was the reason that Owen's claimed 4 Olympic medals instead of 3. If they had dealt with some of the aftermath following Jesse Owens' return to the U.S., such as his public speaking and political engagement, and the resulting persecution that he faced at the hands of the Government and the IRS...that, without question, would have been engaging.

I could go on and on, but at some point one might suggest that Jesse Owens' Olympic success would become more of a base, from which to build a biopic focused on lesser known, but arguably just as intriguing parts of his life. (Hint. Hint.)

In the end, Race, is a solid project, though one that could have easily served as a made-for-cable film, or a television movie of the week. While I don't feel like I wasted my money(paid matinee price) or two hours of my life, I did not emerge from the theater with a strong desire to steer my friends and family to go see it without ticket price qualifications.

I rate it a firm 5.5 out of 10(6 out of 10 if you don't know who Jesse Owens is).

Race is a respectable biopic, but not a remarkable one.