Race earns comparison to Remember the Titans, 42, and other sports biopics about game-changing African American athletes. While it revisits various familiar tropes, Stephen Hopkins’ film goes beyond simply repeating a tired formula. This is a passionately made drama with more than enough powerful performances and well-written moments to go around. The film may not change the way we look at sports movies or the concept of prejudice. Much like the Olympic torch, however, Race is guaranteed to inspire.
Stephan James stars as Jesse Owens, an African American track and field athlete on his way to the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. Jason Sudeikis takes a break from comedy as Larry Snyder, a couch who doesn’t care about Owens’ skin color as long as he can win medals. Owens is determined to go for the gold, but eventually finds himself at a difficult crossroads. Due to Hitler’s regime, many argue that Owens shouldn’t compete in the Olympics as an act of protest. Owens’ decision will leave a significant mark on history whether he stays or goes. The question is which route will ultimately do more to fight oppression.
Although Race is set during the brink of World War II, it parallels numerous current issues. After the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences neglected to nominate a single actor of color for the second year in a row, several stars chose to boycott the ceremony. Some have even suggested that Chris Rock should step down as this year’s Oscar host. In a somewhat similar recent case, activists requested that LeBron James sit out of this NBA season in response to the Tamir Rice verdict. Even if things have improved since the 1930s, Race is a surprisingly timely picture that effectively portrays the unbelievable pressure Owens had to carry on his shoulders.
James delivers a breakout performance as our protagonist and Sudeikis is equally effective as his mentor. The engaging rapport these actors share is definitely the highlight of the film, but the rest of the cast is also quite commendable. Shanice Banton does fine work as Owens’ significant other, whom he wasn’t entirely loyal to. Carice van Houten from Game of Thrones particularly stands out as Leni Riefenstahl, a German filmmaker who isn’t interested in exclusively producing Nazi propaganda. The great Jeremy Irons also has a crucial role as Avery Brundage, the head of American’s Olympic organizations who’s forced to collaborate with Nazi Germany.
Race arguably juggles one too many supporting players. A few of these figures could actually have an entire movie dedicated solely to them. As a matter of fact, there have been a couple movies centered around this historical event, like Berlin ’36. Jesse Owens is the focus of this picture, however, and the filmmakers do right by his life story. Even if you know how the big race ends, this is still gripping entertainment in the long run.