Reviewed by: John Walker
dealing well with hateful attitudes
Adolf Hitler’s vision of Aryan supremacy and his denigration of Jews, blacks and others
|Featuring:|| Stephan James … Jesse Owens
Jason Sudeikis … Larry Snyder
Amanda Crew … Peggy
Jeremy Irons … Avery Brundage
William Hurt … Jeremiah Mahoney
Carice van Houten … Leni Riefenstahl
Giacomo Gianniotti … Sam Stoller
Tony Curran … Lawson Robertson
Tim McInnerny … General Charles
Jonathan Aris … Arthur Lill
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|Director:||Stephen Hopkins—“Lost in Space” (1998), “The Ghost and the Darkness” (1996), “Predator 2” (1990)|
JoBro Productions and Film Finance
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“Race” is the story of Olympic track star Jesse Owens, from the time he leaves for college in 1933 up through his participation in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The first two thirds of the movie is a synopsis of his time spent at Ohio State University, his struggles with bigotry, his relationship with his coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis), personal travails, marriage, and ultimately leading to an agonizing decision about whether or not to attend the Berlin Olympics. The final third widens its perspective, as it moves to the contentious world of Nazi Germany.
As Germany heads forward into Hitler’s idealistic regime, American success at the games is a vehicle which can help break down the Nazi’s attempt to use the Olympics as a showcase for Aryan superiority. Ideas such as prejudice, injustice, family, school, country, self-worth, discovering your values, and the values of others are examined in Jesse’s life—all these things happening to a young man thrust into one of the most tumultuous time periods in our history.
His early life at college shows him as a shy, but confident, young man who has to come to grips with a multitude of personal and interpersonal compromises. He must decide what it means to be a man, a friend, a student, a father, an athlete, a citizen, and a celebrity in a harsh world. Coach Snyder and Jesse form an awkward partnership, and he tries to help Jesse navigate his time in school with a hand’s off approach that pointedly shows the coaches own weaknesses along with Jesse’s. Coach Snyder tries to guide his minority students about how to handle racial prejudice, how to set aside their own interests for the greater goals ahead, and, maybe in a small way with Jesse himself, be a father/brother figure who believes in him and wants him to succeed and assumes that he will.
The movie does feel like a lot of stories are left untold in the life of Jesse Owens. Subjects such as his childhood (other than a snippet telling of picking cotton as a child), his relationship with his father, his interpersonal relationships, and his time leading up to college are untold and could paint an interesting picture of this man. The movie feels like vignettes and slightly rushed until the time that he leaves for Berlin. Nevertheless, his and others’ struggle for equality, and the chance he gets in those 10 seconds of pure freedom, as he puts it, are what inspires and shows how one man can break down barriers, even if only for a moment in time. The ugly truth of these matters hits home after the Olympics, as he falls back into the routine as a second class citizen in America, and we know that Germany proceeds into its inevitable place in history.
It is a well-made movie, but has a slightly uneven feel with the special effects and pacing, sometimes. The shots of 1930’s America are CGI in portions, and it looks that way and is noticeable. The acting is very good and was well cast with the characters being very believable in their roles. One of the most interesting and intriguing portions of the movie is when Jesse comes onto the field to run the 100 meter dash. It was filmed as one continuous shot, from his viewpoint, and was one of the highlights of the movie for me.
The movie is rife with objectionable moments. There are multiple instances of cursing (from the antagonists and the main characters). There is alcohol consumed at various levels throughout the movie—anywhere from casual drinking to apparent addiction. There are instances of sex outside of marriage, both portrayed and alluded to. Jesse has a child outside of marriage with his then girlfriend, but he ultimately marries her. A few women are shown in slightly scanty clothing, but no outright nudity. None is this is displayed graphically, but be aware it is part of the subject matter and pertinent to parts of the story. There are not really any outright violent acts shown, but the mistreatment of minorities both here in the United States and in Germany cannot be obscured in a movie with this subject matter.
To be sure, Jesse is not portrayed as a saint in this movie, and he has many character flaws. Even though he fails in many areas, he ultimately tries and accomplishes doing the right things for himself and others. We see him willing to work hard, support his family and parents (he even puts them ahead of track and his own accomplishments), he is willing to stand up and share with others, and even to make a stand against an oppressive society.
Other characters in the movie have their moments, also. Coach Snyder stands up for Jesse and the other black athletes numerous times and considers himself a friend, as well as coach—he even buys his own ticket to Berlin to support Jesse at the games. Jesse’s wife Ruth proves to be a faithful and supportive helpmate to him throughout. In an interesting and unforeseen portion of the movie, we see Jesse and his German opponent in the long jump, Luz Long, strike up a friendship that we find out will last until Luz’ untimely death in the war. Lastly, in a passing and almost forgettable moment at the beginning of the movie, we see Jesse’s mom telling him that “God spared you for a reason,” as we see a large scar on his chest as he dresses.
I have always liked these types of stories and movies. It seems that God always places a person or persons during trying times to show he is at work in them or through them to accomplish what He wills. The movie has many sticking points that may be very objectionable to many. This is not a Christian movie, and the it does not point to God or His sovereignty as the reason for the outcomes we see. It does provide a glimpse into history of a young man who chose to take the talent he had and apply it to overcome the evil in his time, in his own small way. I am giving it a hearty thumbs up as an inspiring and heartfelt story, but I give it thumbs down for its gritty language and for Jesse’s moral failings, which are played out on screen.
Ultimately, I liked the movie and enjoyed it very much. The PG-13 rating is pertinent and should not be ignored. This movie is not for younger audiences, but can be appreciated by those who can put its subject in perspective.
Violence: Mild / Profanity: Moderate—“Jesus Christ” (1),“ G*d-d*mn” (6), “For G*d’s sakes” (2), “God” (1), “h*ll” (12), “d*mn” (6), s-words (3), “a**” (4), “a**hole” (1), “cr*p” (1) / Sex/Nudity: Mild to moderate
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.