By Brad Zanetti
Where to start. Would I recommend this movie? And would I want to see it again? By the nature of its one word ‘double edged’ title the movie promises both a sport story about a specific race(s) and a more important story about worldwide race relations in the 1930’s. Does the movie deliver on both accounts?
The basic storyline is a couple of years in Jesse Owens career based around 2 specific events:
1- The Big Ten Meet in May 1935 where won 4 events with 4 world records(100y, 220y, 220y hurdles, Long Jump) over a 45 minute period(considered the greatest day in the history of track)
2- The1936 Berlin Olympics in August, where he got 4 gold medals(100m, 200m, LJ and 4 x100 relay) and singlehandedly refuted Hitler’s Aryan concept. There is an oblivious timeline and a number of side stories that either confuse or confound the known storyline.
During the 2 plus hour film the pace and rhythm waxed and waned. At times it moved very slowly and left one wondering where the story was going. Since the movie covered a very short specific time in Owens life I expected some great track scenes and the impact of race issues in is life. Some of the side stories were of questionable authenticity and perhaps not necessary. A fair amount of time was spent on a short term love interest of Jesse and the impact on his relationship with his future wife of 45 years. This added nothing to the story as the remainder of the movie even his relationship with his wife wasn’t very well developed. Speaking of the track scenes, I thought there were well done (thankfully no slow motion) and the athletes did look like athletes. As a runner that was appreciated. There were many scenes demonstrating racism in America from fellow student/athletes, other coaches, Avery Brundage and the Olympic coaches. These scenes were strong and impactful. I think the story of his post Olympic struggle would have made this movie more complete. A terse scene with Jesse and his wife having to use the waiter entrance to a party in his honor seemed a weak portrayal.
The section about Owen’s experiences in Berlin was pretty well done but there were still some inconsistencies. The high point was the representation of Jesse’s relationship with the German long jumper, Carl ‘Luc’ Long, which began as an athletic relationship but developed into a strong friendship. There was some questionable poetic license taken with the Leni Riefenstahl character that I find bothersome and inauthentic (hence unnecessary). And her relationship with Goebbels was questionable. Finally I think the time spent on the background of Avery Brundage and Goebbels relationship might have been better spent on Owen’s post Olympic life.
I think editing some of these mentioned problem areas could have improved the pace of the movie and by utilizing that time to clarify his post Olympic tribulations would have strengthened the racial impact of the movie. To answer my original questions; would I recommend seeing this movie. I can unequivocably say, probably. I think the running scenes are good enough to interest the hardcore runners as is the basic storyline. I would recommend this movie to the running fanatics in the group most definitely and to the rest of the readers with the caveat that some of the storyline and characters may not be accurate. That being said, after watching the movie and enjoying much of it I didn’t feel like I gained any new insight into the life of Jesse Owens so to answer the second question; would I watch it a second time? I would have to answer probably not.
Rating: 3.75 out of 5