I have never been one for sports movies. I am an avid movie fan. I can learn to appreciate all genres whether they be comedy, horror, romance or thriller. But, regardless of how many times I watch Remember the Titans or Rudy, I never find myself enamored in a dramatic retelling of a sports team’s road to victory. However, the new film, Race, is the epitome of a sports movie and I found myself immersed from the opening credits on.
Stephen Hopkins’ (Shameless) latest cinematic endeavor, tells the true story of track and field athlete Jessie Owens’ journey to the 1936 Olympics. The film is a compelling rags-to-riches story set against the backdrop of 1930s America on the cusp of the second world war. As a young, black man Jessie faces adversity from his fellow students at Ohio State but still manages to overcome racial bigotry and compete in the Berlin Olympics-where he accounts even more cruelty at the hands of Hitler’s Nazi regime.
The film is certainly a period piece and while I’m sure it is a “watered down” adaptation of Jessie Owens’ life, it still shines a light on a very different time in our nation’s history. When Jessie steps on a bus and takes a seat in the “colored only” section or is asked to enter a luxurious hotel through the service entrance, it definitely reminds viewers of just how far America has come on the racial equality front.
The cast is a delight to watch especially, Stephan James (Selma), who portrays Jessie Owens. James brings life to the lead character in such a way that it’s nearly impossible to not fall in love with him. He plays well off of Jason Sudeikis (We’re the Millers, Horrible Bosses), who portrays Jessie’s coach, Larry Snyder. While movie-goers are accustomed to seeing Sudeikis in more comedic roles, he is a force to be reckoned portraying a stubborn, strict college athletic coach. James and Sudeikis have wonderful chemistry; Race is filled with funny one-liners and anecdotes that help relieve the racial tension between Jessie Owens and his peers. Shanice Bantonis (Degrassi) is beautiful as Jessie’s wife, Ruth. She is a talented actress who embodies a hard-working mother trying to raise a family in the midst of the Great Depression. Jeremy Irons (The Lion King, Eragon) portrays Avery Brundage, the Olympics board member who travels to Germany and convinces Hitler’s officers to let Jews and Blacks compete in the games. Carice van Houten (Game of Thrones) is also a delight as the brave German filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, who documents Jessie Owens’ Olympic achievements.
Bottom line: Race is an entertaining film that will please sports and non-sports fans alike. The film is a heart warming, inspirational period piece that gives life to an American athlete who paved the way for not only black Americans but all of those who demanded change and respect in the face of adversity.
Rating: 9 out 10 stars.