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Summary / Analysis
Times of India
It is 1936 and the world is slowly heading towards the brink of yet another global conflagration. Hitler however, is still three years away from invading Poland. But US track athlete Jesse Owens faces a different kind of hurdle apart from winning multiple track races the 1936 Berlin Olympics - that of racial prejudice.
Although the wordplay behind the title of this film is clever - the Olympics race as well as the racial discrimination Owens (James) faces in both the US and Germany - this is by and large, quite a no-nonsense movie about a legendary athlete. While scant mention is made of his life after the Olympics win, Owens is portrayed as a squeaky clean guy whose single aim in life was to win big at the Olympics. And of course, win he did. Two men are key figures in getting him to Berlin. Olympic Committee chief Avery Brundage (Irons) negotiates not only with the Olympics Committee to get the USA to participate in the Olympics despite the Nazis' anti-Jew activities and racist ideologies, but also with Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (Metschurat) to tone down the anti-Semitism or else the event would be boycotted by the USA. Then there's Ohio State coach Larry Snyder (Sudeikis, in fine form) who himself missed his shot at the Olympics in the past. Snyder trains and mentors Owens but in time, the two strike up an enduring and easy friendship.
The CGI is effectively used to depict Nazi architecture (the brainchild of German architect Albert Speer, in real life) and its characteristic enormity of scale and size. You get a feeling of how dwarfed Owen feels when he is in the middle of the arena, before the race. Race has some touching moments too, like the time when German athlete Carl Luz (Kross) reaches out to help Owens at a crucial time.
And while Sudeikis and James comprise the athletics angle of the film, Irons owns the behind-the-scenes part that deals with the bureaucracy. Ultimately though, what comes clearly through is that this is a really inspirational story.
Before Stephan James was finalized to play Jesse Owens, John Boyega was cast for the role. However, the latter opted out of the project to star in ‘Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens.’
Jesse Owens’ full name is James Cleveland Owens. ‘Jesse’ is short for the initials of his name ‘JC.’
Daughter of the real Owens were very pleased with the script and wholeheartedly supported it. They even came on sets sometimes and helped Stephan with minute details that made it easier for him to get into character.
Jason Sudeikis plays the role of Owens’ trainer, Larry Snyder. But since there was very little information available on the real Snyder, Jason took inspiration from Gene Hackman from ‘Hoosiers’ (1986) and Kevin Costner from ‘Bill Durham’ (1988) for his character.
Based on the incredible true story of Jesse Owens, the legendary athletic superstar whose 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. Race is an enthralling film about courage, determination, tolerance, and friendship, and an inspiring drama about one man's fight to become an Olympic legend. Race tracks the journey of James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens (portrayed by Stephan James of Selma). As a student and athlete in Depression-era America, Jesse bears the weight of family expectations, racial tension at his college Ohio State University, and his own high standards for competition.
At Ohio State University, Jesse finds a savvy coach and stalwart friend in Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis) - who is unafraid to push the young man to his limits. Bolstered by the love and support of Ruth Solomon (Shanice Banton), with whom he has a young daughter, Jesse's winning ways in intercollegiate competitions earn him a place on the U.S. Olympics team... if there is to be a team going to the 1936 Olympics at all; the American Olympic committee weighs a boycott in protest against Hitler with committee president Jeremiah Mahoney (Academy Award winner William Hurt) and millionaire industrialist Avery Brundage (Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons) debating the issue. Once Brundage prevails with the committee and U.S. participation is confirmed, Jesse enters a new racial and political minefield after he arrives in Berlin with his fellow athletes.
As filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (Carice van Houten of Game of Thrones) readies her cameras to record the Games under the steely gaze of Nazi officials, Jesse reaffirms his determination to compete with excellence and honor. With the world watching, he will place in sharp relief his own country's history of racism as well as the Hitler regime's oppressiveness. Forever defining what an athlete can accomplish, Jesse Owens races into history as an inspiration to millions, then and now.
In writing the screenplay for Race, Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse chose to focus on the most eventful years of the legendary runner's life, beginning at the age of 19 when he first arrived at Ohio State University, and ending with his triumphant run(s) two years later on the world stage. As Waterhouse explains, "A cradle-to-grave story didn't interest us, and we felt we could suggest a lot of what came before and after for him through the prism of this particularly significant stretch in Jesse's life."
Hopkins adds, "I don't think it's possible to do full justice to Jesse Owens' life in a two-hour movie. By honing in on the years 1934 to 1936, we see him mature from a talented runner into a worldwide champion. The time frame of his accomplishment was also of great dramatic interest; it could not have happened before or after because of certain advances in technology and because of the rise of Fascism in Europe."
Shrapnel and Waterhouse also sought to go beyond the boundaries of a typical sports film, onto a broader social and political canvas. Shrapnel elaborates, "In order for the audience to appreciate the enormity of Owens' accomplishments - the scale and importance of his victories - we had to give them background and history; people may not know just how close these Games came to not happening, or happening without U.S. participation. As it was, the Berlin Games were the last Olympics until after World War II. The world was changing fast." Waterhouse reflects, "We told Stephen our ideas up front, and he was quite supportive. Our collaboration with him evolved into one of the best experiences we've ever had with a director. At every stage, he would only enhance what we had done."
Hopkins offers, "Jesse Owens' story is so incredible and rich that Joe and Anna didn't have to pump it up in the slightest. But they had a lot of picking-and-choosing to do to get at its essence."
The screenwriters sifted through hundreds of historical documents, social and political biographies from the era - everything about Jesse Owens that they could get their hands on. "It reaffirmed for us the scale and importance of Jesse's victories in Berlin, both in the sports arena and in the world at large," says Shrapnel. Waterhouse reveals, "Our window into his story became a central relationship for him at this time, and indeed in his life as a whole: the training, respect, and friendship he experienced with Ohio State University coach Larry Snyder. Here was an emotional component which could support the multi-faceted social and political situations that Jesse navigated.
"For, the high-stakes environment in which Owens became enmeshed did take an emotional toll on him. His life was being directly impacted by the impassioned debate over whether the United States should boycott the Berlin Games to protest Adolf Hitler's persecution of Jewish and other ethnic groups."
Shrapnel adds, "There are several pairings we explore aside from Owens and Snyder. Another working relationship plays out on the American Olympic committee between Avery Brundage and Jeremiah Mahoney. "Then there is the competitive edge but also the great respect between Owens and one of his main rivals, German runner Carl 'Luz' Long, Hitler's great Aryan hope. They remained friends for years afterwards." Finally, Shrapnel points to "the shifting dynamic between filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl and German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels." The latter duo are representatives of a world apart from Owens that nonetheless impacts his destiny. "For the Nazi regime, the Olympics was to be their introduction to the world stage," reminds Waterhouse. "That jump-started the significance and long-term impact the 1936 Games would have. Riefenstahl convinced Hitler that filming the Games would immortalize the Nazi movement in a manner comparable to her earlier work Triumph of the Will. But Goebbels wondered about her motives, and about her relationship with Hitler."
The biography of Jesse Owens very well taken and portrayed. It also showed the bigotry of the Roosevelt govt and America''s journey of racism. The sentence "In a race, there is no black or white, just start and end" is so inspiring, particularly when Owens gores against those people who dissuade him for political ends....and a good lesson to our good performers (sports or otherwise) to NOT get dissuaded by those so called champions of secularism, whose only aim is political self development than the interest of the high performer.