A few days before I watched Race I was watching a documentary about the Nazi Olympics and pondered a question ‘who is worse FIFA or the IOC?’. It says a lot about the two organizations that I didn’t include the Nazis in that question. Obviously I am being facetious but both organizations have gotten themselves involved in numerous scandals.
Race is based on Jesse Owens (Stephan James), the American athlete who went to the 1936 Berlin Olympics (the biggest sporting spectacle up to that point) to claim four gold medals, making a mockery of Hitler’s Aryan Race policy. Race charters Owens' life from his early twenties to his success at the Berlin Games, looking at his relationship with his trainer Larry Synder (Jason Sudeikis) racial abuse and the difficult moral decisions he had to face.
The film’s GCSE textbook style of showing history becomes its biggest downfall, it’s a shallow look at the issues that Owens would have faced growing up in late 20s and early 30s America, namely racism. The script’s look at the racial issues Owens would have faced is minimal, with only small hints at such issues. Even worse is superficial look at Nazi Germany where Nazi treatments of Jews doesn’t extend further than sightings of Jews being arrested.
The film’s lack of depth extends to the depiction of Jessie Owens, despite being one of most famous sportsman in American sporting history, the film doesn’t give any reasons why Owens is regarded as highly as he is. Where was the hardships he faced? Where was the hard work and graft he had to put in to achieve his dreams? Instead of focusing on stuff like this, time is wasted following a rather boring romantic subplot.
The film does have some decent sporting spectacle, the sheer size of the Berlin Games is represented superbly and it does capture the excitement of the 100 meter final. However, because the story is so well known there’s no real tension before the races. Stephan James is decent in the lead role, and he shares a good chemistry with Jason Sudeikis, who is surprisingly one the best things about the film.