For those young people who know nothing about Jesse Owens, the star track and field athlete of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, "Race" fills in the basic facts about Owens' life at that time. Director Stephen Hopkins, working from a screenplay by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse, creates what amounts to a hagiography, starring a miscast Stephan James in the title role.
The problem with the whole project is that it only focuses on Owens' glory days—first preparing for the Olympics at Ohio State University under the tutelage of his college coach, Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis has almost as much screen time as James in the role of Owens)—and then moving on to his great victories at the Olympic Games.
Unfortunately, the Jesse Owens story AFTER his great accomplishments at the Olympics, is much more interesting than the story told here. Watching Race, one can only conclude that Owens' principal flaw was his weakness for other women. Owens' childhood sweetheart, Ruth, is the woman he eventually married. But once he became a big college track star, he was seduced by a society girl of sorts, Quincella, which caused a good deal of friction between him and his bride-to-be. They eventually reconcile, and Race's chronicle of the conflict between Jesse and Ruth is perhaps the most compelling part of the picture.
Stephan James unfortunately cannot get a handle on what Owens was like as a man, not only because of the limitations of the script but because James doesn't look or sound like the real Owens. Much more successful was Dorian Harewood as Jesse Owens in the 1984 TV mini-series entitled "The Jesse Owens Story." Harewood plays Owens as a much more easy-going good guy, sometimes naïve and taken advantage of by others. James, on the other hand, exudes a much more modern sensibility, and sometimes comes off as a militant, irked by a racist society that won't acknowledge his accomplishments.
Unlike Race, The Jesse Owens story begins with a probation officer preparing a pre-sentence report on Owens during the late 60s, after he's charged with tax evasion. Instead of the proud militant who has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, the real Jesse Owens was often labeled an "Uncle Tom" by other African- Americans for supposedly "collaborating" with the white power structure. There a scene in the 1984 mini-series where Owens is castigated by his own family for representing the International Olympic Committee (IOC) who asked him to extract an apology from the two black Olympians who raised their fists during a medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico.
The 1984 series also goes into much more detail as to the racist encounters Owens had to endure throughout his life. And Avery Brundage, the head of the IOC, is not only portrayed as more of a racist than he's depicted in the current film, but Owens calls him out in a nicely acted scene in the mini-series.
There's much more about Owens that we don't get to see here but do find out about in the mini-series--and that's disappointing. There's the story about the paper bag full of $10,000 cash which was supposedly tossed into Owen's car as he rode in a ticker-tape parade in NYC after the Olympics. Harewood as Owens in the TV series admits that he got the cash from political operatives representing the 1936 Presidential candidate, Alf Landon. It's well known that Owens was basically a Republican for most of his life and resented the fact that President Roosevelt failed to congratulate him for winning the four gold medals at the Olympics.
More shocking vignettes including Owens agreeing to run against race horses down in Cuba after failing to secure a decent job to support his family. Owens was also forced to resign as a City Commissioner in Detroit after insinuations (later proved untrue) that he did some dirty work for Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters. Eventually Owens was able to convince the Probation Officer that he deserved a second chance, and he was only fined by the Federal Judge for charges of tax evasion. He went on to earn a living as a public speaker and died young at 67, from lung cancer (surprisingly Owens had a three pack a day cigarette habit).
Race manages to handle the actual track and field events at the Olympics more impressively than the less technically proficient scenes (filmed in black and white) in the 1984 mini-series. Owens' relationship with the German track star, Carl "Luz" Long, is done nicely in both the current film and the previous TV series, and other controversial subjects are covered in both--including the Nazis' propaganda campaign against the Jews (shut down before the games at the request of the IOC) and the dismissal of the two Jewish athletes in the 4x100 meter sprint relay (whom Owens and another black athlete replaced).
Race keeps things interesting by introducing Leni Riefensthal (of "Triumph of the Will" fame) who filmed the 1936 Olympics at the behest of Nazi propaganda minister, Josef Goebbels. Unfortunately here, Goebbels is played as a stock villain by Barnaby Metschurat.
If you know nothing about Jesse Owens, this film is a basic primer. As an athlete, Owens' accomplishment were extraordinary. But there's much more to his personality than depicted here. Why not watch "The Jesse Owens Story"? You can find it on Youtube for free!
Action / Biography / Drama / History / Sport
Action / Biography / Drama / History / Sport
In the 1930s, Jesse Owens is a young man who is the first in his family to go to college. Going to Ohio State to train under its track and field coach, Larry Snyder, the young African American athlete quickly impresses with his tremendous potential that suggests Olympic material. However, as Owens struggles both with the obligations of his life and the virulent racism against him, the question of whether America would compete at all at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany is being debated vigorously. When the American envoy finds a compromise persuasive with the Third Reich to avert a boycott, Owens has his own moral struggle about going. Upon resolving that issue, Owens and his coach travel to Berlin to participate in a competition that would mark Owens as the greatest of America's Olympians even as the German film director, Leni Riefenstahl, locks horns with her country's Propaganda Minister, Josef Goebbels, to film the politically embarrassing fact for posterity.
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May 17, 2016 at 01:10 PM