Review: ‘Race’ Chronicles Jesse Owens’ Rise to Olympic Champion

Oftentimes I feel like the word “legend” is tossed around carelessly. Sure, there are some pretty awesome people who’ve impacted the world, however; not all are worthy of being called a “legend.” But when it comes to describing Olympic champion Jesse Owens, l can’t think of a more fitting title.

After viewing a screening of the new biopic, “Race,” based on Owens’ life, I learned just how much he earned that lauded recognition. Through his sacrifices, he helped pave the way for generations of African-American athletes. As the first black person to win four Olympic gold medals, his accomplishments were outstanding and established an amazing precedent, which the movie skillfully shows.

race film

Focus Features’ Jesse Owens’ biopic, “Race,” starring Stephan James hit theaters nationwide Friday, February 19th.

Set in the 1930s, the film follows Owens’ rise to track-and-field star during very tumultuous times for race relations domestically and abroad (the Holocaust). Thankfully, the movie didn’t waste time showing viewers his childhood. It focused solely on the portion of his life that was relevant to the story, which was a four-year span—from his college training days straight to the 1936 Olympics.

Stephan James who stars as Owens does a phenomenal job portraying the Alabama native. I thought it was smart to cast a relatively unknown actor to play Owens for the sake of having a blank slate to build Owens’ character free from familiarity. His performance is also praise-worthy because he embodied the nature and competitive edge of a true athlete.

Jason Sudeikis, who played Larry Snyder, Owens’ hard-nosed, yet devoted coach/mentor/friend, also does a superb job. Despite them coming from two very different backgrounds, the film cleverly reveals their similarities—purposefully exposing our similarities as human beings. The two have great onscreen chemistry, which makes watching their scenes together (the majority of the movie!) enjoyable.

The fact that Owens participated in the Olympics, which was held in Berlin amid Adolf Hitler’s vision of Ayran supremacy is mind-blowing. It shows his bravery, tenacity and ultimate love of racing.

In addition to the entertaining plot that was Owens’ sports career, I found the costumes used throughout the film to be complete standouts. I honestly wanted to run out and purchase each of the chic and polished outfits worn by his wife, Ruth, played by Canadian actress Shanice Banton. From prim blouses to handsome, yet feminine hats, the costume director captured the era beautifully—making the period piece feel authentic.

Overall, the film is good. However, I wished that it delved a bit deeper into Owens as a person. While it did include insight into his love life, it didn’t fully reveal his true personality. I do appreciate the fact his adult children and estate played an integral role in the making of the film, providing credibility to the project. Again, it’s a good film and aptly released during Black History Month. If you’re interested in seeing an inspiring, triumphant film about one of the most fantastic athletes that ever lived, run to a theater near you!

Check out the trailer below:

Do you plan on seeing ‘Race’ this weekend?

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