Race full movie review - (Not just) about Owens
(Reg. review title) And that's the best part.
Stephen Hopkins, know more for his entries in the action/adventure genre, specifically from his work on (the cult hit) 'The ghost and the darkness', 'predator 2' (which, while being a neo-cult classic, also reviled him to fans of the John McTiernan-helmed first entry, in the now-unnecessarily running stand-alone, plus crossover series), 'Judgment night' (one of my favorite 'small' urban thrillers, with perhaps Denis Leary's best performances, that almost-divided his MTV-act fans) and 'blown away' (a mainstream hack of a thriller, with its moments). Not including his prolific work on TV ('House of Lies', '24').
Instead of just solely focusing on Owens' life (which it headlines), this movie instead adopts multiple story lines playing out in common timelines, a technique often employed to either keep the content grounded, or to mask the absence of it, and I'm glad to report that in this one, it seems like its more of the former, than the dispiriting latter, that seems to have driven this narrative decision, again something I did not know Hopkins did well.
In the beginning, we alternate between getting to know Owens from the time he meets coach Snyder (a fantastic, always-slipping-into- character Jason Sudeikis, and anyone who knows me knows that he's prolly my favorite actor on SNL, who has displayed range that the Wiig and Hader types only strive for and never 'get', though they're given better material than the likes of Leslie Jones) and (U.S. Olympic committee) authority types Jeremy irons and William Hurt battling it out, in an interestingly-comprised white-man's clubroom, about whether or not the U.S. needs to send out its best and brightest to Germany for the '36 Olympics.
Now, don't get me wrong, this movie, while being engrossing, is thoroughly mainstream studio fare, concerned most with checking off all the cliché boxes in trying to narrate each of these journeys, along with (the other track that goes in parallel to the actual Olympics) later detailing the filmmaking experience of Riefenstahl (played by Carice 'Melissandre' Van Houten, who I know from the masterful/seminal Paul Verhoeven work, 'Zwartboek'/'Black Book', and her later forays into Hollywood, like 'Valkyrie', 'Repo men' and 'The 5th estate', in which she wasn't, imo, given much substantial to do - and Hollywood makes up for that with this role).
Considering this is a biopic that stays largely true to the material it culls from, there are hardly any surprises (though, in my case, the NAACP angle and Owens' reaction to it was something new to me..along with a few other plot threads), and that's a huge part of a movie's charm for me, which cannot be found in something like this, in spite of the material itself being engrossing.
Performance-wise, since the audience needs to be in Owens corner all the way, newcomer Stephan James has his job cut out for him, but he proves to be more than equal to the task, of course, with strong support from the writing/direction in terms of his characterization, followed by Van Houten chewing up scenery whenever she appears. Unfortunately though, he's also saddled with the writing not completely exploring the lead's grey areas (so to speak), and while he remains an inspiring figure at the end of the flick, he's just not humanized enough, at least not for the likes of me. An Indie production might just have gone all the way with that aspect, but I'm not really complaining hard enough - enjoyed what I got to watch, overall.
And I have to say this - while Barnaby Metschurat's Goebbels does not take away the smarm and menace that Sylvester Groth brought to his portrayal of that character in Tarantino's faux-bio 'Inglourious Basterds', this is a chilling rendering of that character, who has to hold his own with the likes of Irons and even Van Houten in the same frame, and that is not an easy thing for even seasoned performers. So, kudos.
William Hurt does well (as he's always wont to - remember the 1 scene he stole in Cronenberg's 'A history of violence'?) in the short screen time he's in, and I love that the makers did not succumb (like many might have done) to have him in the movie more. His thread also is neatly wrapped up, and all's well with the world.
The technical departments are all mostly good, but one scene with digitally-rendered flames (a la the Hunger games 3 and 4) kinda 'rained on my parade', so to speak, and completely took me outta the movie, including the typical rousing soundtrack. Though the period details do look appropriate, they also look digitally rendered on- the-cheap, and do not give the look of, say, something like 'Seabiscuit' or 'The road to Perdition', or even something like 'Inside Llewyn Davis'.
However, it should also be observed that other than the main leads in each segment/thread, the supporting characters never really come to life, being drawn in broad strokes, and I never really cared if they were around.
One thing the makers can be lauded for - 'Race' (an appropriate title if ever there was one) does try to showcase hypocrisy on the topic that was prevalent then, in terms of 'your racism versus mine' approach that the powers-that-be in U.S. white man clubhouses were patting themselves on their backs with. Now, this is, sadly, always gonna be timely and topical, for audiences in any region, and mainly for that reason, I think this one merits multiple viewings by people who can try thinking while watching their cinema, even if they have to put up with mainstream fare on the subject.
Don't miss, especially on the big screen.