It would be safe to say that many know the story of Jesse Owens.
The American athlete won four gold medals at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany. These Olympics were supposed to be Adolph Hitler’s showcase for his Nazi world. Owens, athletically, flipped Hitler the bird with his achievements.
That story is told again in “Race” which is currently out on DVD and available on other platforms or soon will be. The film explores Owens’ life from the moment he enrolled at Ohio State University through the end of the Summer Olympics in Berlin.
The Canadian-based production stars Stephan James (“Selma”) as Owens and “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Jason Sudeikis as his Ohio State coach, Larry Snyder. Other notables in the cast include Jeremy Irons, as then U.S. Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage, and William Hurt as Amateur Athletic Union President Jeremiah Mahoney, who was active in the discussions of whether the United States should have boycotted the Berlin games.
Owens wants to reach the Olympics, but he faces big challenges. By the time, he arrives on campus he is already a father and has to support his girlfriend and later wife of over 40 years, Ruth Solomon-Owens (Shanice Banton), and their daughter. He is also going to class and on the track team. And the most ugly challenge he faces is racism on campus. Snyder convinces him to stay focused on his goal — the Olympics.
And he succeeds in a big way, winning gold in the 100-meter dash, 200, long jump and as a member of the 400 relay.
“Race” breaks no movie ground. That’s not to say this isn’t a good movie. It is. But there are limits to a story that has been told. The excellent cast all come through with solid performances. But there was nothing for them to push the acting envelope. And again, there are movies like that. But they are still very entertaining.
After the Olympics, Owens had his share of struggles. Most of them were related to racism. The 1984 Emmy-winning TV movie “The Jesse Owens Story”, starring Dorian Harewood, dealt with his post-Olympics life.
“Race” though focuses on those glorious couple of weeks in Berlin for Owens where, except for the Nazis, he was judged by his talents and not by the color of his skin. Sadly, we are as a society still struggling for that to be the consistent norm.
RATING — *** stars
UNTIL NEXT TIME. . .