This film’s one word title succinctly conveys both its emphasis on the sport of running and its concern with racial issues.




The star of this biopic about the black athlete Jesse Owens is Stephan James who also appeared in the 2014 film about Martin Luther King, the outstanding Selma. His presence in both works invites comparisons and in the event the similarities between the two films go even deeper: each chooses to focus on one particular period in the life of its subject  and to view him validly enough in heroic terms. Selma was set in 1965 while Race concentrates on the events leading up to the presence of Owens as an American contender in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, but both films inevitably confront racism. In the case of Race, Goebbels in organising the games is shown seeking to exclude negroes as well as Jews from being competitors. However, the film also records the lot of black people in America not only in the build-up to the Olympics but even years later when, at an event honouring Jesse Owens, he and his wife were asked to enter by a side door.

But, if it seems natural to compare Race with Selma, another film inevitably comes to mind, too. Although it dealt with an earlier Olympics - those held in 1924 - Race self-evidently would like to be this year’s Chariots of Fire. Rachel Portman’s music score seems aware of that and, like that British hit of 1981, Race is very much a mainstream offering in a popular style. One gathers that the background facts are authentically presented. They range from the role played by the American envoy Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons), who in wanting to keep politics out of sport had argued in convention in New York for not boycotting the games despite the anti-Semitism of the Nazis, to the pressure brought  to bear on Owens by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People who wanted him to ignore the vote to participate.

Potentially, this could have allowed for a film of real depth making Race a true companion piece to Selma. However, the writers, husband-and-wife team Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse, frequently opt for a dramatisation that smacks more of popular cinema than of real life. This is particularly evident in the treatment of the relationship between Owens and his wife-to-be, Ruth (Shanice Banton), threatened as it is by a passing affair. Jesse’s attempt at a reconciliation with a big speech in the beauty salon where Ruth is working illustrates this all too well. At 134 minutes Race loses the liveliness of its early scenes, but it is well played and tells a real-life story that many today will not know. So on it own level it does work, although I don't see it being remembered in the way that Chariots of Fire is.




Cast: Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, William Hurt, Jeremy Irons, Carice van Houten, Shanice Banton, David Kross, Eli Goree, Tony Curran, Amanda Crew, Barnaby Metschurat.


Dir Stephen Hopkins, Pro Jean-Charles Lévy, Luc Dayan, Stephen Hopkins, Kate Garwood and others, Screenplay Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse, Ph Peter Levy, Pro Des David Brisbin, Ed John Smith, Music Rachel Portman, Costumes Mario Davignon.


A Forecast Pictures and ID+ presentation/a Solofilms/Trinica/Trinity Race production etc.-Altitude Film Distribution.
134 mins. Canada/Germany/France. 2016. Rel: 3 June 2016. Cert. PG.