Race ****
Directed by Stephen Hopkins; screenplay by Joe Shrapnel e Anna Waterhouse
Starring Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, William Hurt, Eli Goree, David Kross, Carice van Houten
134’; Canada/ France/ Germany 2016.

When Jesse Owens, a young African-American man, is getting ready to start college after many economic sacrifices, Ohio State University is not a casual choice: he knows there he’ll find athletics coach Larry Snyder, a former champion who has long dedicated his life solely to the discipline. Larry quickly realizes he has pure talent in his hands, capable of pulverizing records in more than one discipline. The two seal a deal that sees Jesse completely dedicating himself to Larry’s training, aiming for the Berlin Olympics of 1936. Meanwhile, the racial policies of the Nazi regime raise more and more concerns inside the American Olympic Committee, which considers the idea of boycotting the Games. Jesse himself will have to deal with the pressures of the black community. In the name of the battle against racial discrimination, they ask him to make the greatest sacrifice… refusing to participate in the Olympics.

While sports have always been great vectors for stories for the big screen, it is also fair to state that the world of athletics is among the most complex to represent. Apart from the egregious instance of Chariots of Fire (1981), there are very few movies that manage to engagingly depict a discipline such as track and field, which does not provide team play and where most races end in a few minutes (if not seconds). Race remedies this by focusing on the subject of racial discrimination, explored both in the relationship with the coach, Larry, who in the beginning struggles to understand what it really means to be a young black man in the 1930s, and in the description of Nazi Germany.

The main character, Jesse, is always torn between an extraordinary talent that naturally tends towards greatness, and the obstacles the historical circumstances put in his path. Being accustomed all his life to think of others before himself, Jesse manages to achieve things greater than himself only when, helped by those who love him (his mentor, his wife, his father), he starts taking his desires seriously. The few scenes with his father represent some of the most highly emotional and exciting moments of the movie, so much so that one wonders if this storyline could have been granted more generous space.

Something interesting emerges from the representation of the historical context: for once, Nazi Germany is not simply depicted as a bunch of German drones complying with the regime. Characters like the athlete Luz Long and the friendship that develops between him and Jesse in fact help the viewer to go beyond the stereotypes that plenty of cinema still offers today.

Essentially, despite some flaws, Race is an enjoyable film with the great value of deserving to be included into the increasingly beleaguered category of “family movies”.

Problematic elements: none 

(Translated by Pietro Mazzucchelli)