Screen Scene: Intriguing moments in ‘Race’ don’t add up

Jesse Owens (Stephan James) celebrates a track and field victory with his coach (Jason Sudeikis) in “Race.” (Thibault Grabherr/Focus Features via AP)

Daily Journal

Jesse Owens is an American legend, a real-life hero who walked into Hitler’s Germany and ran away with four gold medals.

“Race” tells Owens’ story with period detail and clothing. There’s plenty of running and jumping, and the stadium in Germany is a sight to behold, especially when the Hindenburg flies over an awed Owens (Stephan James).

In short, the movie has good pieces, but they don’t fit together in a way that increases suspense and audience involvement.

Part of the problem could be that I went into the theater knowing Owens’ triumph, but absolutely everyone knew the ship was going to sink in “Titanic” and that movie was riveting from start to finish.

“Race” opens with Owens on his way to Ohio State University, where he’ll run track and field under the tutelage of coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis), a former world-class athlete who can get to the bottom of a liquor bottle in seconds flat.

Snyder knows his stuff, and he’s an ally to Owens, as other coaches, student athletes and people in the stands use frank language to express their displeasure about a black man on the team.

Winning solves some of his problems, but it creates others. There are temptations on the road, and Owens has a girlfriend (Shanice Banton) and a daughter back home.

He also has a competitor (Eulace Peacock), a fellow African-American who might not be as fast as Owens, but he knows how to get into the speedster’s head.

The movie cuts away from Owens’ life to show the debate between Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons) and Jeremiah Mahoney (William Hurt). One wants American athletes to compete in Nazi Germany and the other doesn’t. I found their scenes together to be dry discussions in a boardroom.

On the flip side, the back and forth between Brundage and Joseph Goebbels (Barnaby Metschurat) crackles with menace. There’s also a wonderful scene between Owens and his chief German competitor (David Kross) that hints at the worldwide pain to come.

The title, “Race,” has more than one meaning. Obviously, Owens is a track and field athlete, and as a black man, he’s not completely accepted by his countrymen. The movie also puts a lens on the plight of European Jews during the run-up to World War II.

That’s weighty material, but for some reason, the individual pieces of “Race” don’t add up on screen. It’s an intriguing film at times, but not an emotionally powerful one.

I give “Race” a C.

It’s showing at the Cinemark in Tupelo, as well as Malcos in Oxford, Corinth and Columbus, and Hollywood Premier Cinemas in Starkville.

Look for movie reviews in Scene on Thursdays, and listen each Tuesday morning on Wizard 106.7 between 8:30 and 8:45 a.m.

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