Dir: Stephen Hopkins.
With: Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, William Hurt. 134 mins.
More marathon than
sprint, Stephen Hopkins’ period biopic affords the Jesse Owens story – one of
the greatest eff-yous ever recorded in competitive sports – a reverential,
middle-of-the-pack treatment: stumbling exposition, grandstanding performers, a
thousand yards of rousing speeches and music cues. It’s regrettably typical
that Stephan James’ Jesse should be given a Caucasian interlocutor in coach
Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis, reining in the smirks); and that his personal
struggles are partially obscured by the negotiations of diplomat Jeremy Irons
with a chilly Goebbels (Barnaby Metschurat) and saucy Leni Riefenstahl (Carice
van Houten). Still, it raises its game – as drama, spectacle and camp – the closer
it gets to the Olympic Stadium, where Hitler awaits, muttering darkly in the
stands like a Voldemort in epaulettes. That it remains broadly watchable owes
much to James’ lean, committed turn, but what’s around him often seems to be
carving its lightning-bolt history not into stone, but easily digestible
cheese. Race is now playing in selected cinemas.