click to enlarge ‘Race’ not just a sports story
Thibault Grabherr/Focus Features via AP
This photo provided by Focus Features shows Stephan James as Jesse Owens in Stephen Hopkins? "Race," a Focus Features release.

Three out of five kernel


KAYLEE BREWSTER “Race” combines the competition of a sports movie with the conscience of racial issues and the “Let’s beat the Nazis” attitude of a war film to create a film that pleases from start to finish.

Jesse Owens (Stephan James) has gone off to college, and although he’s a black man in a predominately white school, he manages to turn a few heads — on the track field, that is. Particularly impressed is coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis), who is looking for a champion to take to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

Many people in the U.S. are upset about the Olympics because of the discriminating acts being done by a guy named Hitler. Some are calling for a complete boycott, members of the NAACP are asking Owens to stand against racism by not attending the games, and others are telling Owens to go and beat the Nazis on their own turf.

What he ultimately decides to do goes down in every record and history book.

It’s really hard to dislike Owens. He’s a fast, talented athlete with a charming smile, and he jokes around with his fellow athletes and his coach. He’s the kind of guy you don’t mind hanging out with for two hours. James plays Owens well both on and off the athletic field, including his nervous habits of tapping his fingers or studying the track during the long jump. It makes him feel more grounded as a character.

But no athlete is much without his coach, and the chemistry between Owens and Snyder is perfect. Snyder wants Owens to do well so he can prove how good he is, despite the color of his skin. Owens wants to do well, too, but he also wants to make his coach proud.

Snyder knows when Owens’ head isn’t right and gives him advice on what to do. They share inside jokes with each other about their years together. They are there for each other no matter what, and it’s beautiful to see that kind of friendship on screen.

Sudeikis’ step out his normal comedy role at times will make you laugh, but is more on the dramatic side. He pulls it off perfectly, be it during his passionate speeches, the way he trains, or most importantly the way he believes and stands up for Owens — even to the point where Owens has to tell him to calm down.

There is something else that works well for the film that sneaks in the background: the music. Different tones and themes fit all the different aspects of “Race,” from the upbeat training music, inspirational tones for when Owens does well, jazz music for the clubs the team visits and a deep, sinister sound every time the Nazis show up. It’s a subtle way to keep track of all that going on.

At first, “Race” may seem like just another sports movie, if not another movie about race issues — and it is, but it’s also more. With the added element of Nazi Germany, it adds a whole new aspect to create a story that I’ve never seen told before. It shows that fighting the Nazis wasn’t always with guns, planes and tank, but started with two fast feet.

“Race” also reminds people today that there are many ways to fight against hate and bigotry, and in the case of Owens, it’s to run right into them.