"Race" stars Stephan James as Jesse Owens, the Olympic track and field runner who would go on to perform in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, this taking place in the midst of Adolf Hitler's rise to power as well as the start of the Holocaust. This movie is basically a biopic telling Owens's story on the adversity he had to overcome at the time and how his performance would have an effect on society given the circumstances in Germany at the time. This movie also stars Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, and William Hurt.
In the same vein as 2013's "42", the Jackie Robinson biopic, this movie is a story of an African-American athlete trying to prove himself to the world that he's capable of doing great things regardless of skin color. In my eyes, "42" was a good, entertaining movie that did its job well, though it's also not an amazingly special biopic that breaks new ground. It was a good, albeit by the numbers biopic and that's more or less what we have with "Race".
The performances in this movie were all solid and the acting was really the only standout, great thing this movie had going for it. Stephan James steps up in the role of Jesse Owens and he was very good in the role considering that he's virtually a newcomer in my eyes. I only know him for his small supporting role in 2014's "Selma", but this was the movie that made me see all the potential he has. I can't for certain say if he perfectly embodies Jesse Owens, but from what I saw, he gave a strong performance that displayed what he's capable of. The other performance in this movie that I really liked was Jason Sudeikis in a much more dramatic role than he's use to doing. He's come a long way from doing unfunny sketches on the new, boring, painful "Saturday Night Live" episodes and now I see him as a legit talent with some solid acting range. Not to discredit James's performance in anyway, but Sudeikis came out of left field and gave a great performance the likes of which he's never really done before, playing Owens's trainer in a very memorable way.
What I'll also say is that as enjoyable as this movie is, the first half does jump back and forth between entertaining, interesting sequences and generic biopic territory in which we get some of the cliched stuff we've seen in most sports dramas by now. For every great scene of Owens doing his thing and showing off his talent as a runner, there's also a scene in which not a lot is happening other than characters spouting exposition on all the adversity Owens has to deal with and it slows the movie down considering that said adversity is pretty well established without characters having to explain it to us. This is almost the entire first half of the movie and it makes for uneven pacing that gets in the way of the greatness of the story and how it unfolds.
However, once the second half of the movie kicks in and you start to get wrapped up in all of the drama and everything pertaining to the Olympics and Owens's goals, the movie picks up and makes for a genuinely inspiring and entertaining second half with great production values for the setting of Berlin and a story that's easy to follow. At this point, all that matters is Jesse Owens and his performance at the Olympics and it's plenty fun to watch. Anybody who knows the story or knows basic biopic storytelling 101 will be able to see the ending coming a mile away, but in a movie like this, it's more about the path leading to the ending rather than the end itself and this movie, for the most part, paved a pretty good path for the story to be told.
In the end, "Race" isn't anything special. It's a standard biopic that's well acted, it looks great in terms of production design, and it has its share of inspiring, dramatic moments that are worth at least one viewing. This movie won't get any major Oscars recognition and most people probably won't even remember this film by the end this year, but for my money it was a good watch and despite it being a fairly safe biopic, I had an overall enjoyable experience.