Race (2016)

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I’ve heard the name: Jesse Owens before, of course, but I didn’t know anything else about him apart from the fact he competed in Germany and was still treated badly upon his return home to the States. This biopic goes over the course of his journey in a great way to champion the brilliance of an athlete that I’m glad to know more about now.

Jesse Owens (Stephan James) manages to enrol in Ohio State University and there he grabs the eye of former athlete and coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis). Owens is a natural at running but must hone in on his starts, leading him to grow and get the chance to compete at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. It’s not that simple though as the world is looking at Germany to clean it’s racist act and Owens becomes the centre of that issue.

Stephen Hopkins certainly shows a passion for his subject with this film. From 1933 to ’36 we see the life and times of Owens with a good eye. It may not always be directed as swiftly as Owens himself runs but there’s enough detail in here for the athletic/Olympic uninitiated like myself to mull over and find interesting. What Hopkins does well is build up to the Berlin games in an absorbing way, so when we finally reach the towering entrance of the stadium we feel both in awe and disgust at the right wing views of the organisers.

It’s certainly true to say that though the scenes away from the race track slow down the pace of this 134 minute movie, it opened my eyes to the dark choices made for America to keep in the Olympics. The U.S committees and shadowy snippets of propaganda motivations cast a necessary evil over the sporting feel of this biography feature. The end of the movie has the expected screen subtitles giving more information about the history, one fact about German athlete Carl ‘Luz’ Long is shocking but you’d expect nothing else sadly.

‘Race’ bursts into it’s stride in the moments before the Olympics begin. So as we see Jesse Owens deliberating over whether to take part, his qualifying day and the numerous moments we see Joseph Goebbels squirm because his games aren’t going the way he hoped, which brought me great satisfaction every time it shows his face in close up, dealing with the brilliance of Owens overshadowing his Nazi dreamt ceremony and idea that Aryan supremacy rang true. There isn’t exactly exhilaration to be had during the 1936 Olympics sequence but it does bring a sense of pride, even for a non American, the sight of Owens triumphing time and time again is a joy to behold for his sport, his country and his race.

Stephan James does a great deal to ensure this movie keeps interest from the start to the finishing line. He tears up the track and shuttles through the film with a passion and quiet heroism in his performance. Jason Sudeikis as a mostly comic actor does really well as the coach figure which I guess is made up for cinematic treatment, but it’s worthwhile as he and James do well together in that ‘sports movie coach/student’ cliché. Carice van Houten ditches the red hair and dons a German accent as propaganda director Leni Riefenstahl, who made the documentary ‘Olympia’. She plays the German motivated visionary well but shows another side when hearing the twisted ideals of Goebbels, who is captured in a seriously chilling light by Barnaby Metschurat, his mere presence evokes a cold wave of fear.

It’s not stunning or exactly thrilling, but the subject matter holds up to keep your interest peaked in what was definitely a shady part of world history mixed with the spectacle of the biggest sporting event. There’s more going on with Owens then there is about the race issues and politics of the time but this film has told me something and made me want to learn more.

7/10

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Eddie the Eagle (2016)

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It may be a typical underdog tale but this one does flap and ultimately soar like an eagle thanks to a persistent and likeable figure to root for, motivational music and neat directing to round everything off with a great landing.

Based on the real life Eddie Edwards, this movie follows Eddie (Taron Egerton) from childhood to his 20’s as he never gives up on the dream of becoming an Olympian. Travelling to Germany to practice ski-jumping he meets Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) a former jumper who helps Edwards hone his technique, even if the upcoming 1988 Winter Olympics may see him out of his depth, they won’t stop trying.

I think everywhere but especially so in Great Britain, we love a trier. An underdog is something most of us connect to and wholly root for because it’s exciting to see someone not usually great do great things. Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards is that trier and though he finished last in every jump, he set British records and showed that following your dream is the way forward. I’m glad this film came about because in a way, past all the cliches, it is an inspiring story.

Dexter Fletcher directs this movie in the way you’d expect for a sporting and underdog narrative but there’s an undeniable energy and frightening look in the build up to the increasing heights of each jump. There’s also the well worked boundless if naive enthusiasm Eddie has for taking on each new challenge. Fletcher manages to make the film feel sweet in us caring for Eddie but then he also makes sure there’s an English comedy to laughing at the fall guy, so we are always on both sides of the man which actually triumphs and never forces us to stick to one side.

Sean Macaulay’s screenplay may gloss over more of the unorthodox looks of Eddie’s jumps and paint him as a bigger hero and hey, he invents Bronson Peary too, which was something annoying to find out, why create a coach when he had two anyway. Though, saying this it is a compact story that sticks true to that British, almost ‘Billy Elliot’ like tone in having us follow someone out of the crowd wanting to do their thing. Macaulay does a fine job in having comedy too, making it okay for us to smile and laugh at the absurdity of this bespectacled Brit hurling himself off slopes.

There’s a great sporting sound to Matthew Margeson’s music, as if pulsing with a stadium-esque rhythm to heighten the actions that Eddie takes. It’s quick and energetic which does a fantastic job in making it feel entertaining. The soundtrack too is perfect with Hall and Oates and Frankie Goes to Hollywood being just two of the artists that pulsate over scenes. Bolero even gets its slot adding a comedic touch to goings on.

Taron Egerton may as well be Eddie, because now he’s donned the thick glasses and sported a nasty small moustache, he looks spot on as the man he’s portraying. Then there’s the brilliant movements in his face; squints and gurning and Egerton’s delivery working so well in making Eddie appear like a fool, yet one we can’t help but idolise. Hugh Jackman steps into the bolshy boots of a drunken past it athlete as you’d expect, mostly being Jackman but being the supportive talent to Egerton’s spotlight. Keith Allen and Jo Hartley are wonderful as Eddie’s parents, Keith being grouchy and the typical heyday father wanting his son to be a plasterer balanced out by the sweet caring love shown by Hartley as supportive mum.

Not even hiding how British this film is works wonders, skiing past the clichéd story-telling and lifting off to endearing heights makes this an easy-going and inspiring watch.

7.5/10