Jesse Owens' quest to become the greatest track and field athlete in history thrusts him onto the world stage of the 1936 Olympics, where he faces off against Adolf Hitler's vision of Aryan supremacy.
After watching the fun Eddie the Eagle the other day, I thought I’d give another Olympic biopic a go. The story of Jesse Owens is one of the rise of an impressive athlete who had to endure and fight racism at home in the US to make it to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. 1936 may have been before WWII, but the nazi regime was already well established including their Racial Cleansing policies.
Knowing what the nazi’s were doing, the US Olympic committee was divided whether to boycott the Berlin Olympics altogether. One the other hand, for the US to have Blacks and Jews competing in ‘his’ Olympics, and potentially even beating his Aryan Uebermensch ideal would clearly be an embarrassment to Hitler. The US did not boycott, and Jesse Owens went on to win 4 gold medals in Berlin.
The story is a great one, not just of the athlete Owens but also an important history lesson that is unfortunately still no less relevant today. The movie however, is less great.
For a movie so filled with potentially explosive material, it is all terribly safe. You’d expect some serious tension, and there is some to be fair, but it lacks any edge unfortunately. That is not to say it is a not worth seeing – it is. But you just keep expecting the pressure to move up a notch… but just as there is hint of a sizzle it already fizzles out again and we’re back in safe territory.
It is a long-ish movie (130 minutes) but it doesn’t get boring – there is enough in the story to keep you engaged. But even after two hours we still know very little about Jesse Owens – the script doesn’t delve any deeper into him than it does into any other of its other topics.
It’s an interesting piece of history, but it could have been much more. Where Eddie the Eagle leaves you cheering for the hero, Race doesn’t – and worse, nor does it make you feel outraged at the nazis or the racism back home in the US. You observe history in this film, you never experience it.
Still, a 6/10.