Race covers a lot of ground during its lengthy running time, exploring not only racism but also hypocrisy and corruption in sport. It can be a little obvious at times but strong performances ensure the end result being solid entertainment.
"How can you justify competing when there is so much discrimination at home?" is the central question to this biopic of Jesse Owens (James) and his appearance at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Under the tutelage of Larry Snyder (Sudeikis) at Ohio University, Owens hones his natural talent as he preps for the Games, juggling a fiancée (Shanice Banton) and child and pressure from the NAACP to not compete. Meanwhile, under pressure from public opinion to boycott the Olympics, the American committee send Avery Brundage (Irons) to Germany to meet with Goebbels (Barnaby Metschurat) and ensure that Nazi policy is curtailed during the event.
Race makes the audience wait for its big moments, taking an age to get to the Games itself. The screenplay (from the writers of Frankie & Alice) does its level best to fill out the time as it branches out to encompass Sudeikis' regret of missing 1924 Games through crashing his plane (and subsequent drinking problem) and Owens' dalliance with a dancer throwing his relationship with his fiancée into doubt, neither of which amount to much. Then there's Jeremiah Mahoney (William Hurt) backing an American boycott and Brundage having his head turn by a potentially lucrative property development deal. Meanwhile an overcooked Goebbels stomps about, missing only the Imperial March when he enters a room.
Eventually the action gets to Berlin and Race finally springs to life with the Games boasting a fun Escape To Victory vibe about them; one single take follows Owens from the shadows of the stadium to the track (that whoosh of noise from the stands), to the starting positions, and onto the finish line. The racism theme cranks up a notch too with Owens encountering discrimination from his own team as head coach is uncomfortable with Owens' demands to reinstate Snyder. Another scene sees the two Jewish members of the American relay team dropped at the last minute.
In one magic scene, Owens and German champion Carl 'Lutz' Long (David Kross, The Reader) whose sportsmanship towards Owens under the gaze of Hitler was brave, share a coke. Lutz is aghast that a woman was sent to his room in the hope of him getting her pregnant - not an athlete but a stud to breed. Carice van Houten (Game of Thrones) pops up as Leni Riefenstahl, doubling up as filmmaker (her Olympia documentary was supposed to showcase the supremacy of the Aryan race but…) and translator. Riefenstahl suffers from subjugation too with Goebbels doubtful of her talent because she’s a woman and later banning the cameras from rolling once he realises Owens is unstoppable.
Watchable but one wonders what the upcoming Owens biopic (with Anthony Mackie in the lead role) will do with the subject.