IN MOST WAYS, Race is a totally ordinary movie. A biopic about track-and-field superstar Jesse Owens, it cozily hits all the obligatory marks, with Stephan James (Selma) as bland, likeable Owens and Jason Sudeikis (George Wendt's nephew—look it up!) as gruff, likeable coach Larry Snyder. We see Owens overcome racism in the Ohio State locker room, woo the woman he loves, and run like the dickens. Owens' record-breaking showing at a 1935 Ann Arbor track meet is treated like a station of the cross.
In other ways, Race is kind of bonkers. Owens' talent took him to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, where racial relations were... uh, shall we say, super fucking tense. So for the last half-hour or so, we watch a black American beat the mustard out of a bunch of Aryan athletes on the field, as Hitler and Goebbels grumpily watch. The stakes are A LOT higher than your typical feel-good sports movie. When the triumph of the human spirit butts up against Triumph of the Will, you know this story's gotta end with either a gold medal or mass genocide.
For the moviegoer's sake, Race opts to focus on Owens' low-key but hugely significant heroism on the eve of a globe-encompassing tragedy. Peripheral characters, like German broad jumper Luz Long (David Kross), who struck up an unlikely friendship with Owens, filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (Game of Thrones' Carice van Houten), and Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons) are all fascinating figures, but they're dealt with only glancingly. And Germany's own horrific situation at that time mutes America's enormous racial problems, which the film can't quite wrap its head around. Still, as a basic history lesson, Race could have been a lot worse; as an investigation of social issues that are still with us today, it cracks open an interesting window—even if it can't do more.