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by Michael  Cox
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Jun 6, 2016

In 1936, Germany, under the control of the Nazis, set out to prove the superiority of the "master race" by hosting the Olympics and displaying their blond-haired, blue-eyed athletes, the reigning European champions. A good deal of the United States wanted to boycott the Berlin Olympics to send the message, loud and clear, that they would not tolerate racism or fascist politics.

"Race" sets out to tell the story of how America, and one American in particular, Jesse Owens (Stephan James), compromised their principles to participate in the Berlin games, but ended up quietly defying Hitler and his racist viewpoints by beating German athletes and winning medals.

This incident in American history speaks volumes about the country's mixed values, foreign policy, misplaced pride and clear hypocrisy as it teetered on the brink of World War II. This is an innately dramatic subject with endlessly compelling themes. The problem with this film is it tries to do too much.

Is it an inspirational sports movie? It sure has those elements; a down trodden athlete - only because he is poor and black in a segregated, openly racist country - rises above his station to prove himself as a champion. It also has the components of the encouraging coach/teacher film. Jason Sudeikis gives a marvelous performance as Larry Snyder, the coach at Ohio State University who encourages Owens to greatness. Much of the beginning of the film focuses on this relationship, but then it's all but dropped as the action moves to Germany.

There's a love story tacked in there. Owens makes some mistakes but chooses to return to, and marry, his boyhood sweetheart and the mother of his child. And there's a taught political debate as two acting forces -- Jeremy Irons as Avery Brundage (the potentially corrupt head of the Olympic movement) and William Hurt as Jeremiah Mahoney (his chief opponent) -- come together to vote on American involvement in the games.

To top it off, "Race" is also a film about filmmaking. The great propaganda documentarian Leni Riefenstahl (Carice van Houten), who created some of our most iconic images of Nazi identity and power in "Triumph of the Will," is painted as an American mediator and Owens sympathizer.

There are some gripping moments in this film and it's a fascinating subject, but it tries to pack too much into 2 hours and 15 minutes and consequently trivializes the really good material at its disposal.

This Blu-ray disc comes with three bonus features, each about 4 minutes long. These focus mainly on the performers and not on the history. One feature "The Owens Sisters" shows Jesse Owens' adult daughters and their memories of their father.

Blu-ray $17.99


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