Movie review: ‘Race’ the story of an American hero
–In the early 1930s in Cleveland, Ohio, people were looking for a hero. It was the height of the Great Depression, poverty was high and jobs were scarce. It was in that time and place that Joel Schuster and Jerry Siegel created “Superman” as a means of escape and a way to offer people hope.
Really, all they needed to do was look to Ohio State University. There one of the greatest athletes in the history of the United States — Jesse Owens — was plying his trade. He was winning races and preparing for the Olympics, all while carrying the weight of a nation, and especially oppressed minorities, on his shoulders.
The new film “Race” captures Owens’ story and his run to glory in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. It also captures the challenges he faced on the track and in the world.
The film begins with Owens (Stephan James) heading to Ohio State. He’s a gifted runner from a poor family. Despite the prejudice that exists, he heads to Ohio State because he wants to be the best and he thinks coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis) can get him there.
Snyder promises to make Owens ready to win Gold in Berlin provided he remains committed to the program and puts in the work. He even helps Owens provide for his daughter back home.
Along the way, Owens faces challenges on and off the track, including discrimination and personal struggles with his girlfriend, and later wife, Ruth (Shanice Banton). But he just keeps winning, putting himself in a position to represent the United States in Germany.
Meanwhile, members of the U.S. Olympic committee have to decide whether to attend or boycott the games in the heart of Hitler’s Germany.
“Race” is the first great and inspiring movie of 2016. While “Deadpool” has soaked up a lot of the press and money and the Box Office, “Race” is the first movie this year that had me hooked from start to finish and invested in the outcome.
Director Stephen Hopkins is best known for his work on the small screen and with action movies like “Predator 2.” But here he tells a beautiful historical story. It’s a story of competition. A story of a man caught in a political and personal maelstrom. And a beautifully told story of a champion that many people might not know a lot about.
Screenwriters Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse do a nice job of telling this story. They explore Owens’ success on the track, but also more about his personal journey and the obstacles he had to overcome — including the racism right here at home. Owens was an Olympic champion 11 years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, and long before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made his historic march in Selma. He was a champion for his community and his country, often doing his best in the face of hatred and prejudice.
Owens four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics made a bold statement, and his records on the track lasted long after his career was over. That sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of the seemingly endless debates about the greatest athlete in the history of the United States.
The beauty of “Race” is that it shines a light on his story and on an important time in the history of our country.
James, who does a lot of the heavy lifting as Owens, is great in the film. Equally good is Sudeikis, who takes on a very different kind of role. Sudeikis is known for his outlandish comedic characters, but here he takes on the role of mentor in a dramatic film, and does so quite well. It’s not the obvious casting choice, but it’s part of what makes the film so engaging.
If you’re looking for a fascinating and engrossing story, “Race” is it. And it’s an important story for moviegoers of all ages.
“Race” has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for thematic elements and language.
Four stars out of four.
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