Historical dramas are tricky; there’s a fine line between recreating a historical event and throwing out a few actors do their best in a moment that needs THE best. In the case of Race, this line was straddled so often it’s almost criminal. Chemistrywise it was there. Jason Sudeikis puts on his best serious face, which in all fairness is totally believable. In fact, all of the characters are almost intimidatingly believable.
Fortunately for all involved there were no problems in characterization. Each actor took their role as seriously as the subject required. Unfortunately, their given material is remarkably dull. Sure, let’s talk about this moment in time that was important to American history. It’s interesting, it’s important, but…do we need it? That was a question that sat heavily throughout the movie. Do we need these extra few minutes of emotion building when said emotion had already successfully arrived moments before? Do we need that extra beat taken by each actor as they visibly make a choice on screen? Truthfully these were stage acting choices taking place on film. But who’s to fault for this? Director? Editing? Writing? As a whole, there was a severe miscommunication in staff that led to a sub-par telling of Jesse “JC” Owens’ story.
Perhaps it was the serious tone of the film that led to this hindrance. The only comic relief of the whole thing came in short spurts from serious scenes where a character would break a moment with a comedic gesture or saying. Nothing that would lead to more than a chuckle from the audience, of course, because god forbid this drama be mistaken for something interesting. Really what hurt a lot of the film was the fact that each scene ran about a minute or so longer than it ever needed to. Of course, this wasn’t the case in the places where it really needed to. It felt like the film jumped from one year to the next in a moment, leaving behind a bevy of unanswered questions regarding the well-being of fleshed out characters that allegedly continued to exist in the background. But did they really? Without getting into an existential argument regarding featured background characters, the way Race presented things it seemed they were frozen in time until the moment Jesse Owens needed them in his life once again.
Going back to the historical side of things, the film took care to make it accurate. The use of CGI was a little distracting in the sense that buildings in the background and the stadium in Berlin were a little too clean and 300-esque. The story, however, dealt with the racial push back of the 30’s and the rise of Nazis to power delicately yet powerfully. Stephan James’ portrayal of Jesse Owens was accurate in his use of mannerism, cadence and tone. He played the character true, and it was definitely appreciated throughout the story.
All in all this should have been a good movie. But it wasn’t, and that’s a real shame. Between the history that the film covers, and the current state of affairs the world is smoldering in, this could have made a statement within a vanilla wash of recent films. One can only hope that when we as a nation look back on the accomplishments of the great Jesse Owens, we don’t dwell on the film that almost got it right.
Race is now playing in theaters everywhere.