In a poignant scene in Stephen Hopkins’ Race, Jesse Owens (Stephan James) walks into the Olympic Stadium at Berlin. The year is 1936. Adolf Hitler, the anti-semitic ruler of Germany wants to use the Summer Olympics as a propaganda to promote the ideals of Nazi and racial supremacy. The feverish supporters of Fuhrer have filled the stadium with a seating capacity of more than 100,000. An Afro-American, not respected in his own country, is competing with men in the Olympics organised by none other than Adolf Hitler, the most hated man in the history of human race. The experience must have been overwhelming. The film maker makes you invest in that moment. I loved the way the camera follows Jesse Owens to capture his vulnerability. How could this man silence those voices of hatred around him and focus all his energy and attention to create world records while winning the 100 metres, 200 metres, long jump and 4 x 100 relay?
The subtle, powerful and aptly titled ‘Race’ tries to present Jesse Owens’ phenomenal rise to success at the Olympics. The movie is a studious presentation of the story of the track and field athlete. The movie could have been a great film, considering that it also pays tribute to a stellar film maker of those times, Leni Riefenstahl, whose innovative techniques in capturing the 1936 Summer Olympics at Berlin would prove to be a major influence for sports photography and making sports films in the years to come. But where the movie could have fared better is the writing (Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse). While it is understandable that the makers wanted to present the film in a truthful way possible, it could have been a lot crisper.
The story majorly focuses on the relationship between Coach Larry Snyder and Jesse Owens. The other portions of the film try to touch upon Jesse Owens’ married life with spouse, Ruth Solomon-Owens; the frictional relationship that existed between Joseph Goebbels (Barnaby Metschurat) and Leni Riefenstahl (Carice van Houten); Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons) negotiating with the Nazis for a racially inclusive Olympics and most importantly, the camaraderie between Carl Ludwig ‘Luz’ Long (David Kross) and Jesse Owens. I felt these portions could have been crisper.
Rachel Portman (who has earlier scored for The Perks of Being a Wall Flower) has composed the Original Score for this too. The background score is impactful. But what I shall remember will be the stellar performances by the two leads — Coach Larry Snyder (played by an incredible Jason Sudeikis who has earlier starred in comedies like We’re the Millers and Horrible Bosses) and Jesse Owens (an intense looking Stephan James who has earlier starred in Selma).
‘Race’ is a must watch film to remind ourselves of the incredible story of Jesse Owens who fought against all odds to emerge triumphant.
A ‘Race’ to remember!