Race mixes the insanity of racism and Nazism with conditions in the United States for those of “color” in the 1930s with the politics of the day. It also mixes the story of one of the most amazing athletes ever produced in this country.
He is Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. It is Owens whose Olympic record shattering performances shoved Adolph Hitler’s master race theory up you know where.
How good was Owens? In 1935, he set an unprecedented three world records and tied one in a 45 minute period. One of those records lasted for an equally unprecedented 25 years. His story deserves telling.
In all the negatives that impacted Owens at the time — a growing family, racism at home, racism in Germany, pressure to not participate in the Olympics and an equal amount of pressure to attend — he never lost sight of the goal and what brought him the most joy, and that was running.
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Three performances in Race stand out. Stephan James (Selma) is exceptionally good as Owens. Like the real life sprinter, James holds his character’s emotions in check until it’s time to explode, and then the explosion is controlled until he reaches the finish line.
How good was Owens? In 1935, he set an unprecedented three world records and tied one in a 45 minute period. One of those records lasted for an equally unprecedented 25 years.
His co-star is Jason Sudeikis (Horrible Bosses). Known for comedy and for his work on Saturday Night Live, Sudeikis gives a low-key performance as Owens’ color-blind coach. Sudeikis takes his brilliant comedic timing and seamlessly moves it to drama. This is Oscar-worthy stuff.
Also outstanding is Barnaby Metschurat, who plays Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. His emotionless, insect-like appearance and acting is creepy.
While Race can’t help but focus on race, because Owens’ story is so tied to the topic, it’s also about, as one Owens’ line puts it, “There ain’t no black and white, there’s just fast and slow.” The real story is how two men — Owens and his coach Larry Snyder — didn’t care about skin color and produced one of the world’s greatest athletes.
It’s what I like most about the movie. Owens struggles with race but doesn’t let race get in the way of the prize. And it doesn’t get in the way of this version of Owens’ incredible story either.
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Stars: Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, William Hurt, Carice van Houten, Amanda Crew, Barnaby Metschurat
Mr. Movie rating: 4 1/2 stars
Rated PG-13 for mature themes and language including racist language. It’s playing at Regal’s Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and the Queensgate 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen.
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it’s your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 stars to 1 star: Don’t bother.