The true story of American Olympian Jesse Owens is such an interesting subject, and “Race” attempts to tackle it from the starting line of Owens’ first day as a college student at Ohio State. What a shame that his story is wasted on such a disappointing movie. I feel a bit un-American for having to write a negative review of this movie because Owens broke so many barriers at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, Germany, but this overly long and poorly made film is a bust.
How poorly made is it? Well, in several scenes you can see the boom microphone used by the film crew. In another you can clearly see the reflection of a modern-day cameraman in a mirror. If the filmmakers had such little care and respect for their movie, how can they expect audiences to? The mundane direction and overuse of slow motion and sound gimmicks from director Stephen Hopkins adds to the snoozefest. Stephan James does a fine job as Jesse, and Jeremy Irons and William Hurt add some prestige in their supporting roles. As much as I adore Jason Sudeikis, the guy isn’t strong enough for a big dramatic role like this. There were times when I felt sorry for him and just had to look away from the screen.
You’d think that in a two and a half hour movie we’d see much more of Owens’ story. I wanted a deeper exploration into what would’ve happened if he had decided to boycott the Olympics as the NAACP suggested. I wanted to know more about his relationships with his Olympic teammates. I wanted to learn about his feelings of the German culture. There’s a lot to admire about this tremendous athlete and I wanted to know more. Instead, the movie gets sidetracked with several secondary plotlines that focus on the American Olympic Committee, coach Larry Snyder (Sudeikis), propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels (Barnaby Metschurat), and a bizarre narrative about the struggles that Hitler’s favorite filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl (Carice van Houten), endured while filming her classic Nazi propaganda documentary “Olympia.”
I didn’t hate everything about the movie: the scenes at the Berlin games were intriguing and the history presented made me want to research more after it was over. But the clever title suggests an interesting dialogue will be presented about race relations throughout history and today — and it is, sort of. But so much more could’ve been done with the movie. In the end, I found the message that you can and should simply “tune out” any unpleasant racist comments pretty offensive.
After just having seen the excellent “Eddie the Eagle” — another story about an Olympian — I had high hopes for this one. Most of us know something about the Jesse Owens story, and I was excited to see what they would do with it on the big screen. Unfortunately, I was sorely disappointed.
It’s not the subject matter that makes this movie bad; it’s the choices of the filmmakers. This movie feels like it was slapped together in a hurry. They’ve taken the amazing story of one of the greatest-ever American athletes, who traveled to the hyper-racist Nazi Germany in 1936 to represent his country in the Olympics, and made it a dull, also-ran, by-the-numbers biopic.
There were some good points in the movie and genuine moments of tension, but they were largely outnumbered. If you’re interested in the Jesse Owens story, buy a book about him and skip this movie.