Jessie Owens (Stephan James) is the first member of his family to earn a college scholarship. As he is off to Ohio State he stops by the hairdresser where his girlfriend Ruth Solomon (Shaice Banton) the mother of his daughter works. Almost missing his bus he is off with is friend Dave Albritton (Eli Goree) to start school. At school he meets coach Synder (Jason Sudekis) who was a star athlete in his day and had qualified for the 1924 Olympics in Paris. Synder has been looking for an athlete to raise the profile of the Ohio State track team and help to finally beat their rivals at USC.
Director Stephen Hopkins along with writers Joe Shrapnel and Anna Watersouse craft a story that captures the tenor of the time and tensions on two sides of the Atlantic. At home Jessie has to make sure that he goes back to the colored seats when he boards the bus in Cleveland to head to Columbus. He and Dave Albritton have to wait for the all white football team to shower and are pushed out of the locker room by the same squad. At the same time the US Olympic committee are seriously considering a boycott Joseph Goebbels is heard of German athletics and Jewish homes in Berlin are being ransacked with the inhabitants driven off in trucks out of the city.
The costume and wardrobe department led by Juliana Stenzel need to be mentioned for their work. The clothing set the tone for the portrayal of the early 1930's. Clothing is key from the first scene when Jessie is first looking for his one good shirt as he prepares to depart for Columbus to the new Navy blazer that his mother buys for his trip away to school. The team do an excellent job reproducing the running athletic attire of the time along with the 1936 Olympic U.S.A team uniforms.
The other technical department that brings the picture to life is the CGI and visual effects crews. Two of the best visual spectacles in the production feature the majesty of the construction then first view inside the Berlin Olympic Stadium. U.S. Olympic committee executive Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons) heads over during preparation for the games to move the Germans in a more sanitized direction before the Americans would consider attending the games. During the visit he is brought to the stadium that is still under construction. The enormity and scale of the engineering feat is jaw dropping. Later when Jessie walks down the tunnel into the stadium director Hopkins employs a 360 degree shot showing the stands, the track and field facilities, the Hitler viewing box, the Hindenburg overhead then back to Jessie who is having a hard time breathing.
Stephan James is a standout a Jessie Owens. James follows up a strong supporting role in Selma with an even better performance as the central figure of the film. James is pulled in multiple directions with everyone wanting something from him. He chooses to focus on what he does best and is very successful. Jason Sudeikis shines as the multi layered coach Larry Synder. Legendary track start turned Ohio State coach who is haunted by the memory of the 24 games leading him to drive Jessie very hard to be sure that he does not miss his chance in Berlin. Jeremy Irons is memorable as Avery Brundage. The leader of the faction that sans the US to go to Berlin but he is personally uncomfortable by the actions and policies of the 36 games hosts.
Race is an historical biopic that truly captures the time, politics and social issues of the early to mid 1930's Jessie Owens is a star in his country his Olympic association wants him to be free to run in a country whose polities they despise but he still has to give up his seat on a bus or go in through the side entrance of a posh New York hotel. The production balance these difficult elements well to produce a film that I can truly recommend
*** 1/2 Out of 4.
Race | Stephen Hopkins | France/ Germany/Canada | 2016 | 134 Minutes.
Tags: XI Olympiad, Olympic Games, Berlin, 1930's,1936, Ohio State, Track and Field, Cleveland.