‘Race’ can’t hurdle clunky dialogue

What It’s About

“Race” reminds us of Jesse Owens’ remarkable achievement at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He won four gold medals in front of a Nazi government intent on advancing their Aryan race agenda.

Perfectly suited for the cinema, this sports biography inspires and engages an audience ready to cheer every thrilling victory.

Yet, clunky dialogue by the screenwriting duo of Joe Schrapnel (Deborah Kerr’s grandson) and Anna Waterhouse (“Frankie and Alice”) clashes with the period, taking us out of the moment.

Perhaps they modernized the language to make it palatable to contemporary audiences, but it’s disconcerting. People in the 1930s did not say “Good luck with that.”

Otherwise, the film’s period look captures an unsettling time in world history.

Crucial details are disclosed, important to understanding how significant competing in Germany was. Owens’ real-life friendship with German competitor Luz is explored, an interesting aspect.


Impressive as civil rights activist John Lewis in “Selma,” Stephan James is well-suited to play a real American hero. He conveys the drive, doubts and decent character of one of our country’s greatest athletes, James Cleveland Owens.

In his first dramatic role, Jason Sudeikis (“Horrible Bosses”) is believable as Larry Snyder, a former track star turned coach. Snyder and Owens developed a special bond, and Sudeikis and James have a believable rapport.

The characters are simplified into basic good vs. bad guys. Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels will always be a monster, not a shred of humanity in evidence.

Carice van Houten fares better in a flattering portrait of German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, whose two-part documentary “Olympia” captured Owens’ record-shattering feats.

What Works

Director Stephen Hopkins (“Lost in Space”) assuredly filmed the track competitions. The sweeping panoramic shot of Owens first walking into the Berlin arena is a stunner.

What Doesn’t Work

Hopkins is rather heavy-handed depicting racial conflicts.

Younger viewers may be unaware of how extraordinary Owens’ Olympics performances were, and what it took to get that far. “Race” is a good way to pique interest, but this national treasure deserved a better movie.



  • Director: Stephen Hopkins
  • Cast: Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, Carice van Houten, Shanice Banton and William Hurt
  • Rated PG-13 (thematic elements and language)
  • 134 minutes