Director: Stephen Hopkins
Cast: Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Eli Goree, Jeremy Irons, Carice van Houten, William Hurt
Screenplay: Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse
134 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and language.
Well, 2015 was an interesting year in film. But all years must come to an end, so today we look forward at 2016, starting with the Stephen Hopkins (TV’s House of Lies, Lost in Space) film, Race.
Race is mostly a biographical film chronicling the career of Jesse Owens (Stephan James, Selma, Lost After Dark) leading up to his time in the 1936 Olympics in Germany and his battle to win the gold over Adolf Hitler’s Aryan athletes. The film also displays the work of Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons, The Lion King, High-Rise) to come to a decision over whether it is worth it to travel to Germany in the first place.
First of all, I should point out how terrific the title is. Sure, a little on the head, but nonetheless effective.
Stephen Hopkins faces a difficult task with this film, and that task is to decide what his film is even about. He fails in this task. He wants to make a biopic of Jesse Owens, but he wants to make a historical drama focused on the 1936 Olympics, and he wants to touch on Leni Riefenstahl (Carice van Houten, TV’s Game of Thrones, Black Book) and her quest to make a film on the Olympics from all its viewpoints. Sadly, while it is possible to do this in one film, it is unsuccessful in the attempt. For one thing, the very nature of the Jesse Owens part of the film dominates the far-too-much time spent on Brundage trying to keep the peace. The audience becomes fully aware very early on of the outcome but the film chooses to drag the plotline through to its conclusion at the loss of viewer engagement.
Stephan James does pretty solid work as Owens, and Jason Sudeikis (TV’s Saturday Night Live, We’re the Millers) gives an admirable attempt in breaking out of his comfort zone to portray Larry Snyder, Owens’ coach, while veterans Irons and William Hurt (Into the Wild, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them) feel wasted by an underdeveloped screenplay.
The film has its moments, particularly in the sequences where Owens is competing. While these sequences are very much what one would expect, it’s nice to see Hopkins commanding the screen if only occasionally.
The pacing, though, is really where he loses us, focusing too much time on plot points that don’t add up to enough to maintain his momentum. Stephen Hopkins has given some truly great work to the genre field, but I feel like even he isn’t sure of himself here, and the work suffers from it. Race leaps into the air, reaching for greatness, but unlike its lead character, it comes up far too short.
-Kyle A. Goethe