By Michael Kaye
I'll be honest, there's not a whole lot I remember about my 8th grade history class, but there's one assignment that really stood out. I had to create a children's book based on a significant historical event, and the one I chose was about Jesse Owens and his triumphant victories at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. From that point on, I've always wanted to see this story play out on the big screen, and today I finally got my wish!
Race is the film about Jesse Owens' quest to become the greatest track and field athlete in history. This quest of his thrusts him onto the world stage of the 1936 Olympics, where he faces off against Adolf Hitler's vision of Aryan supremacy.
It's a shame this movie didn't come out sooner or later, as it's probably going to be ignored by the Academy! Yeah, it's that good, and I'll explain further with my positives and negatives.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
First off, the cast is incredible! I haven't actually seen footage of Jesse Owens, and I haven't seen a whole lot from actor Stephan James, but I do know he was absolutely perfect in the role! And you know who really surprised the hell out of me? Jason freaking Sudeikis as Coach Larry Snyder! I've always liked Sudeikis on SNL and in a lot of his comedic roles, but by God did he knock it out of the park here! These two actors had such an amazing chemistry that it felt like I traveled back in time to 1936! As for the supporting cast, it was quite stacked! Did I miss the memo that 2016 was going to be an Ironclad year, because Jeremy Irons is on fire right now! He didn't just crush it here as Avery Brundage, but later this year he'll be Alfred in Batman V Superman, and he's got supporting roles in High Rise and Assassin's Creed! Shanice Banton does a great job as Owens' wife Ruth Solomon, as does Carice van Houten as German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl! But the one who really impressed me, for as little screen time as he had was David Kross as Carl "Lutz" Long, the Aryan athlete whom Jesse befriended at the Olympics.
Despite whatever bias I may have, I still feel this is a story worth telling on the big screen! It's hard to believe that Stephen Hopkins, the director of such classics as Judgement Night, The Reaping, Predator 2 and Lost in Space, could actually manage to do this story justice. Nevertheless, he did just that, and while the plot was a touch paint by numbers, I was still sucked in, like I was sitting in the bleachers on the day of the big race!
Here's something I don't talk about often, and that's the sound design. One of the best lines from the movie is "for those 10 seconds, nothing else matters," and the way they show that during the racing scenes is damn near flawless! Just as a race is about to start, all other background gradually fades away, keeping the focus solely on Owens and the track.
Finally, in a bit of contradiction to what I mentioned above, Focus Features could not have picked a better time to release this movie than right now! February is Black History Month, and with everything that's been going on in the news over the past year, especially surrounding #BlackLivesMatter, it's just good to see a movie that pays tribute to a great American Hero. Much like last year's Selma, this movie does an excellent job at addressing racial issues, but doesn't let that get in the way of telling a good story, combining everything that makes both a great sports drama and a great period piece into one.
I tried my hardest to find SOMETHING negative to say about this movie, but unfortunately I came up short. Everything I saw on screen was great. But if I had to nitpick two things, this is what I came up with.
First off, I have to comment on the title. Calling this movie "Race" is both on point and on the nose at the same time. But to be fair, it's not like I would have come up with anything better.
My only other nitpick is about the pacing. This movie runs at 2 hours and 14, but it never really felt that way, at least for the most part. Perhaps a better filmmaker would have found a way to shave off a few minutes, maybe spend less time on Avery Brundage's subplot?
Race was a welcome surprise for me! Never had I imagined I'd actually get to see Jesse Owens' story told on the big screen, let alone have so many positive things to say about it! Everyone did an amazing job with this film, from the cast to the crew! I'd love to see Jason Sudeikis take on more dramatic roles, and I really can't wait to see where Stephan James and David Kross's careers take them! Guys, don't let this movie slip under the cracks, run to your nearest multiplex and go see Race!