Race (2016)

Released: February 19, 2016. Directed by Stephen Hopkins. Starring Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Eli Goree. Runtime: 2 hr 14 min.

Taking on a dual meaning title, Race follows the awe-inspiring story of Jesse Owens gearing up towards his stint at the 1936 Olympics in a Germany under the start of the Hitler regime.

Stephan James (Selma) stars as the pride and joy of Ohio State, Jesse Owens, bringing charm to a legendary figure who wasn’t given enough credit for his achievements at the Olympics because of the time it happened.

Heck, it took him long enough to get the first theatrical film about Owens – about 80 years. Owens did have his own film back in 1984, however, in the form of a made-for-television production called The Jesse Owens Story. But are TV productions real movies? That’s debatable.

Anyway, James captures emotion of the time for a person of colour not having the rights of any white people. He’s great depicting the athleticism and astounding agility of the character. I enjoyed seeing the chemistry between him and Shanice Banton’s Ruth Solomon, as well.

He can take a stand by going to the Olympics in Germany and making a stand for the African American folks, as well as the severely repressed Jewish people, during a time that was just the start of Hitler’s regime.

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Stephan James as Jesse Owens doing the long jump. (Source

With all of its other focuses, this is still very much a sports film, as we’re brought through Owens’ training by star Larry Snyder, portrayed with utmost kindness by Jason Sudeikis.

The feature is also at its best when we go with Owens to the Olympics. This isn’t a spoiler if you know of Owens’ prestige. It’s rousing and inspiring cheering him on.

But the line between sport and politics blur so much that it takes away from Owens’ story at times. It’s like Owens’ story is just used as a frame for a story that is largely about the United States Olympic Committee and how they were able to convince the Germans to allow African Americans and Jews to compete.

Jeremy Irons’ Avery Brundage represents the interest to have Americans compete at the Olympic Games. William Hurt’s Jeremiah Mahoney represented the opposing opinion of boycotting the Olympics for the year – because of the intense segregation.

Joseph Goebbels is portrayed by Barnaby Metschurat. The character is just rather mean, but that’s expected for Goebbels. He’s the political heart on the side of the Germans, as the Minister of Propaganda at the time.

While promoting the Aryan race, he also suppresses documentary filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (portrayed by Carice van Houten). He wishes her to make a film which reflects the views of the German government – while she has to stick it to the man and wants to focus on the success of Owens.

It’s frustrating, but that’s what the filmmakers go for – to frustrate the audience. And later in the film show that, even through so much glory, there will always be discrimination.

The story is almost drowned completely by the politics, and is often in danger of being a political drama.

But the scenes at the Olympics and the inspiring road there make up for it and while the film isn’t as great as Owens’ achievements, it would still deserve a bronze medal. That’s still a winner, right?

Stephen Hopkins (Lost in Space, A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warrior) directs the races with precision and it makes the film entertaining in that respect. The cinematography is stellar in these scenes, the director of photography is Peter Levy who often works with Hopkins, and is still interesting during the more chatty sequences.

The best part of the film is especially James’ performance. He’s inspiring how he captures optimism through a dark time. Hopefully this kick-starts James’ career the same way 42, a sports biography about fellow race pioneer Jackie Robinson, did for Chadwick Boseman.

James depicts the athlete’s dedication to his coach realistically. The chemistry there really works – and captures how lovely the relationship between a coach and a mentor can be.

Score: 65/100

 

42 (2013)

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Release Date: April 12, 2013

Director: Brian Helgeland

Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie

Runtime: 128 min

Jackie Robinson (portrayed by Chadwick Boseman) is a prominent figure in the civil rights for black athletes, as he is the first African-American athlete to play in the major leagues and break the colour barrier. 42 is the second biopic for Robinson, after 1950’s The Jackie Robinson Story. This follows Robinson’s life between 1945 and 1947, focusing on the hardships faces, after being integrated into a white-dominated sport by Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford).

It highlights these hardships he faces so precisely, that we really start to care for Robinson and what he goes through to play a game that he loves, and advance equality among races in the process. It is a true testament to the heart and soul of Jackie Robinson, a man for segregation, and a true American hero. That’s what helps this become such a successful film when it’s both on the field, and off.

When it’s on the field, it’s very rousing and often times, you’ll have the urge to stand up and cheer. It really feels like one is watching the actual game on TV for the first time, and that’s what helps it feel genuine. The more competitive viewers might even feel the urge to yell at the screen when the umpire makes a bad call; and you’ll definitely feel infuriated by some of characters’ actions against Robinson. You’ll either want to clap or weep for him at times because of the opposite race’s contempt he must face.

A lot of the racism is expressed through manipulative characterization. Some are just right, like when some of his own team mates still don’t feel comfortable playing with him or even showering with him, for that matter. Or when a child at a Cincinnati game falls under the societal pressures of the day and begins shouting racial slurs at Robinson like the rest of the crowd. Other times, they’re way over-the-top. Take Alan Tudyk’s character of Ben Chapman, for example. What he does is infuriating and manipulative because its cause is to get the watcher’s blood boiling, but it does work effectively, and it will definitely rouse a certain reaction. When Jackie breaks down and cannot take the discrimination any more, it is truly powerful and one of the film’s strongest scenes, on the field or not. That’s what really admirable about a sports feature like such: It finds a unique balance between scenes on-and-off the green grass.

It’s always exciting and never a dull moment, even if the dialogue gets more corny than your grandmother’s best corn dish at Thanksgiving. It’s helped by the stellar performances from the cast. Almost everyone in the supporting cast is fine, but Andre Holland as journalist and companion of Robinson, Wendell Smith, is very good. Lucas Black as Pee Wee Johnson is excellent, and the scene he shares with Boseman is significant and heart-warming  Chadwick Boseman (best known prior to this for small-screen roles in Persons Unknown and Lincoln Heights) shines as Jackie Robinson in a star-making role, and since Robinson can’t play himself (dead men can’t act!), you’ll be glad it’s Boseman. The chemistry between him and Harrison Ford (appearing as Branch Rickey) is excellent, and the scenes they share together are very memorable. Since Ford will most likely receive an Oscar nomination for his outstanding performance, he once again proves he has the ability to be wildly successful without a fedora on his head or a lightsaber in his hands.

It’s also impressive that such a powerful film gets to have a little fun with itself, as it beams with charm. There’s some laugh-out-loud humour here, as well, especially when John C. McGinley (portraying Red Barber) commentates; one of his funniest lines about being, about Robinson, “He’s definitely a brunette.” What would we do without that keen sense of observation?

Do not miss the opportunity to see 42 in theatres, because it is a fantastic true story that has to be known; it’s a rousing, charming grand slam and a new American classic. It’s a two-hour-plus film that feels like 90 minutes, and it’s one of the best sports movies of the past few years.

90/100