While many sports biographies are comfortable sticking no to the basic underdog story, Race is much more ambitious, taking on the social and political turmoil within the story of Jesse Owens (Stephen Hopkins). The film takes a lot on, from the bigotry of the era to the importance of the Olympic Athletes, but Race is an often exciting and even touching historical drama. While there are elements familiar to films like this, the film is expertly well done with a breakout performance from Stephen James.
Taking on any role so iconic is a challenge, and Stephen James brings a lot to the role of Owens, with the charisma and earner nature making for an instantly relatable hero. Surprisingly, Jason Sudekis contradicts his typically comedic role with a grounded dramatic performance, and the interplay between James and Sudekis is undeniably the film’s highlight. A smaller role from Jeremy Irons is also particularly memorable, and the cast in general never hit a false note in the narrative.
There’s a lot to be said about how much Race covers, but the film’s most effective elements remain the commitment to the historical setting, the racial commentary, and the underdog athlete storyline. While the 134 minute film sometimes struggles to combine these elements, it’s a testament to the film that it’s able to keep everything together for the length of the film. Race is a respectful and authentic biography that’s quite inspiring, as well as proving to be a relevant film about both athletics and racial conflict. Grade: B