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Review: Race

Stephan James stars in Focus Features' RACE

Jesse Owens is an American hero who just about everyone knows about. The feats that he accomplished in such a short period of time made the kind of humongous impact that proved to be earth-shattering and game changing. So when the film Race came along promising to tell the story of his life, you knew there was a great amount of source material to use in order to tell a compelling story.

Showing himself to have the makings of an athletic superstar even before making it to Ohio State, Jesse Owens (Stephan James) has his goals set high. He hoped to be the greatest track and field star the world had ever known, but his determination and physical abilities pushed him even further than maybe even he could have imagined when he found himself at the center of attention during the 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Germany by challenging Adolf Hitler’s vision of Aryan supremacy over the rest of the world.

From my perspective, the movie itself isn’t powerful enough. It could have benefited from some much needed toughness since it’s based on some seriously harsh stuff from a racial standpoint. Instead, we get a PG-13 movie that comes extremely close to earning a PG rating. The only thing that really stops it from achieving such a rating is the use of a few racial epithets sprinkled across the picture. Other than that, it’s a fairly tame piece of cinema that’s safer than it probably should be.

Ultimately, I think this is the key issue that prevents Race from being great. There’s a very cordial tone to just about everything to the point where you know it’s all going to work out for all involved and no one will suffer or get hurt. Now, we all know that wasn’t the case in real life, but this is how it’s handled here. Because of this, Race manages only to be a decent picture instead of something that’s truly memorable. Nothing here is going to cause you to get too emotionally involved or anything, but it’s fine for what it is.

It’s weird to say this, but I would have liked for Race to focus on Jesse Owens a little more than it actually does. Yes, he’s definitely the main character, but there are a few too many things included that take end up taking much of the focus off of him and his story. Now they are clearly marketing this as being a film that’s exclusively about him, but there are a lot of other characters with little subplots tossed in there as well.

These stories about the others aren’t bad or even unimportant, but I don’t know if they should have taken up as much time as they do. Besides, his story even after the Olympic Games that he participated in is just as intriguing and important as his life before and during the events. If you wanted to make a big-time biopic about him, giving more focus to that part of his life would have been the better direction to go in from my point of view.

The best parts of Race are the races and the training sessions that lead up to them. This is especially true once Jesse Owens arrives in Germany for the Olympics. During this period, everything is built up quite nicely and it gives the movie more life than it has at any other moment. It’s here that they make the events in the picture appear to be something extremely valuable. It’s just unfortunate that nothing else here is handled in this type of fashion.

Although I think this is a respectable movie, it never makes you believe that it’s something that you need to experience. Including the acting, nothing here is higher than above average. With films that are predicated on monumental events, you anticipate seeing something being showcased that will have an impact on you as a viewer. Achieving that goal should always be one of the main objectives in these circumstances. Although the story of Jesse Owens means a lot in terms of historical importance, Race isn’t the movie that showcases its truly epic stature.

Director: Stephen Hopkins

Stephan James
Jason Sudeikis
Jeremy Irons
William Hurt
Caprice van Houten
Amanda Crew
Jeremy Ferdman
Barnaby Metschurat
David Kross
Glynn Turman

Film Length: 134 minutes

Release Date: February 19, 2016

Distributor: Focus Features

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