Race loses traction
Unless the viewer is completely unaware of who Jesse Owens was and what transpired at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Race may hold some interest. Otherwise, this wellmeaning historical drama, made with the full cooperation of Owens’ family, is strictly by-thenumbers, adhering as much to sports-movie cliches as the story of Owens.
John Boyega was originally cast in the pivotal role but opted out to make Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so Stephan Young plays Owens in sincere and earnest fashion, and he has a nice rapport with Jason Sudeikis, eschewing comedy and looking right at home in ‘30s-era duds as Owens’ coach, Larry Snyder.
There’s plenty of ground to cover (no pun intended), and Race covers it in elementary fashion. There’s the Depression era in which Owens grew up; the relationship with Ruth (Shanice Benton), his girlfriend and mother of his child; the debate between Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons) and Jeremiah Mahoney (William Hurt) whether the United States should participate in an Olympics Games held under the umbrella of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich; and Owens’ weighing his decision whether or not to participate, knowing full well the racism and bigotry he faces at home and will likewise face in Berlin.
These conflicts remain common knowledge (hopefully) even in 2016, 80 years after the events they depict, and director/producer Stephen Hopkins is unable to drum up much suspense regarding the outcome. The race scenes are competently handled, but occur only periodically.
Among the other actors on hand are Glynn Turman (billed as “Glynn E. Turman”), who has one scene as an NAACP representative who tries to persuade Jesse not to participate; David Kross as Carl “Luz” Long, Jesse’s principal (German) competition in the Games; Amanda Crew as filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, portrayed here as more loyal to filmmaking than the Reich; Barnaby Metschurat as Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, presented as a coldblooded creep (sounds about right); and Adrian Zwicker as Der Fuhrer himself, although he’s such a non-entity that his presence barely registers.