“Race” tells the story of Olympic legend Jesse Owens, the Ohio State University track star who went to the 1936 games in Berlin just before the start of World War II. The film begins as Owens (Stephan James) starts college and meets his coach, Larry Snyder, played by Jason Sudeikis.
Snyder immediately sees Owens’ talent and the movie follows the two as they prepare for the eventual Olympic Games.
Owens’ story is certainly impressive given the circumstances of the country (and the world for that matter) at that point in history. As its title implies, “Race” certainly does take on these issues with racial matters at the forefront, which makes for a compelling picture whenever these themes are played out.
For example, during the Olympics, there is a fantastic scene where Owens is talking to another competitor from Germany, Carl ‘Luz’ Long (David Kross) and the two have a great conversation about race and their respective countries’ response to it. The same can be said for many of the scenes between Owens and his coach, as the film strongly portrays their friendship and their struggles.
With that said, “Race” isn’t a perfect movie, with it suffering mainly from a run-time that is too long and some unnecessary subplots thrown in. Much of this comes in the first half of the film, in which there is a mini-subplot about a short affair Owens had as well as a vote by the Olympic committee on whether or not to play at the games.
Even as the Olympics get started, which was one of the main attractions of the picture, the movie still takes up too much time with a subplot about a filmmaker who is trying to document the games and her having to deal with the German government to do so.
It all equals a film that while inspiring and heartfelt, also comes off as a bit bloated. In a way, it’s as if this movie bit off a little more than it could chew.
“Race” does benefit from a really solid cast, with James taking the lead role and running with it (no pun intended). He is on point with all of his scenes, whether it’s him struggling whether to compete in the games or his passion and drive to win.
The same can be said for Sudeikis, who comes from the comedic side of Hollywood. His background in acting doesn’t slow him down on the drama side of things, though, as Sudeikis gives a heartfelt performance and has a good onscreen camaraderie with James.
A true highlight of “Race” was the recreation of the era. The set and costume design were well done and put the audience right in the depression times. This aspect was especially strong during the scenes at the Olympics, as the filmmakers recreated the track stadium where Owens won his four gold medals.
There are plenty of things that work in “Race,” its acting is good for the most part, the setting is well crafted and the deeper themes of the era are on display. Unfortunately the movie is held back somewhat by the multiple subplots which make the experience feel too long. This one might have benefited from a more focused approach. 3 out of 5.