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Most have at least a vague idea of who Jesse Owens was. He was known as a black athlete who won some Gold Medals in Germany while dealing with racism along the way. While this is true, there is so much more to the man who became a legend both on and off the track field. Director Stephen Hopkins looks to re-educate the world on this amazing man and how he rose to stardom.
Race stars Stephan James (Selma (2014), When the Game Stands Tall (2014)) as Jesse Owens. Interesting side note regarding Jesse’s name; his full name is James Cleveland Owens but he went by “JC” as a child. One of his teachers misheard his nickname and thought his name was Jesse. The name stuck and the rest is history. The story starts off with Jesse competing in high school and getting the attention of major colleges. Rather than attending a more accepting university in regards to his racial background, Jesse chose Ohio State University which was not very kind to him due to the color of his skin. His reason for choosing OSU was simple. He wanted to be the best runner he could be and that meant he needed the best coach. Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis) had a reputation of getting the best out of his runners so it was a natural fit. Jesse learns many life lessons under the tutelage of Coach Snyder in addition to becoming a better runner. Owen’s dream of competing on the grandest stage of all, the Olympics, is within his grasp but Jesse will soon learn that the hurdles on the field are nothing compared to the ones in real life.
As stated previously, most are familiar with the broad strokes of Jesse’s life in sports but it’s the finer details that make for an interesting story. Race combines the on field adrenaline fueled action along with a more emotionally appealing tone off of the field. The struggles are real for young Jesse and not everything has to do with the color of his skin. America in the 1930s was difficult time for most people of color. With Jesse, his skills allowed him to transcend some of those difficulties but at the same time it makes him a bigger target. There are many lessons that can be taken from this movie but not every lesson involves race.
Even though Race is rated PG-13 some might feel uncomfortable watching it or allowing younger audiences to view it due to the harsh racial language here and there. Having said that, it’s a necessary part of movie that’s partially built on the hatred of others due to their color or creed. The runtime is over two hours long (134 minutes to be exact) but it doesn’t feel like an eternity sitting and watching events unfold. Jesse’s time spent at OSU and in his hometown feels like a totally different movie from when he finally arrives in Berlin, Germany for the 1936 Olympics. The irony witnessed in these two stages of the film is that while here in his own country, the United States of America, Jesse was hated by the masses due to what he looked like. In another country (Germany) where there are virtually no black people, he had an easier time for the most part (Adolf Hitler notwithstanding). On the other hand, the Jewish American athletes had it pretty easy in the US but Germany was a completely different story. I guess there’s enough hatred to spread around the world to just about everyone unfortunately.
Race is an inspiring sports biopic as most are but it isn’t perfect. Stephan James did a decent job he isn’t awe-inspiring. It was also kind of weird to see Jason Sudeikis taking on a more serious role. He kind of reminds me of David Clark in We’re the Millers during his attempted serious moments. I just kept waiting for him to break character with a silly quip here and there. None of this ruins the movie, it just helps solidify the fact that this will not be a classic sports movie. Thankfully though it is good enough to get the job done. And that job is that it will entertain, educate and inspire. You can’t really ask for much more than that I suppose. Check it out in theaters and learn the whole story of Jesse Owens.

Race is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: Carl Wheeler

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