One of the opening scenes in the movie Race, a biopic about American track and field legend Jesse Owens, sees his mother Emma (Michele Lonsdale Smith) tell him he was brought into this world “for a reason” as she sends him off to his first day at Ohio State University in 1933.
Three years later, Owens (Stephan James, Selma) made history at the Berlin Olympics, winning four gold medals.
But his journey towards glory was not just about sport.
As an African American track and field phenom, Owens stood in the face of racism back home in America as well as Nazi Germany, debunking Hitler’s ideas of Aryan superiority with each of his four victories on German soil – hence the title of the film, that obviously carries a double-meaning.
The movie focuses on the three years leading up to the Berlin Games, in which Owens and his OSU coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis) chase an Olympic dream.
The film lacks depth in portraying how Owens dealt with the enormous pressures he faced, both in the US and in Germany, while spending too much time on subplots like the negotiations – and shady business – that took place between Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons) of the US Olympic Committee and Germany’s Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, as well as on German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, who was making her documentary Olympia on the Games.
But in a way, it also depicts how Owens was able to block out the noise and focus on chasing his dream.
One of Owens’ most remarkable feats was breaking three world records and tying a fourth within a span of 45 minutes at the 1935 Big Ten meet in Ann Arbor. While that day was not ignored in the film, it felt like it was rushed and deserved a deeper look.
Still, for the typical sports movie buff, this film ticks many boxes: It’s about one of the greatest athletes of all-time, features strong performances from a well-chosen cast (including the out-of-left-field choice of Sudeikis), and showcases challenge and triumph under an inspirational message. It would be hard not to be moved by the scenes in Berlin.
But those who are hoping to understand more about how Owens felt towards the racism he was surrounded by might leave the movie theatre wanting for more.
We rate it: 7.5 out of 10: An inspirational biopic with a triumphant tone that tells the story of the legendary Jesse Owens.
Where to watch: Race opens in UAE theatres on Thursday, March 3 at Vox Cinemas (Mall of the Emirates, Yas Mall) and Reel Cinemas (Dubai Mall).
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