First Hit: What a wonderful story of a man whose greatness and perseverance had him rise above and over race and discrimination.
Jesse Owens (Stephen James) was one of the greatest Olympic track and field athletes the United States has ever had.
Raised when racial discrimination was still a huge issue in the US, learning to ignore the external noise, and do what he did best made this story even more phenomenal.
The story follows Jesse, his depressed father, supportive mother and Ruth Solomon (Shanice Banton) his girlfriend and mother of his daughter, as he finds is way through all the external noise to greatness. Guiding him along the way was his Ohio State University coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis).
One of the most powerful lesson delivering scenes was when the track team was in the locker room when the OSU football team comes in and demands that the track team leave, especially because of Jesse and other blacks on the track team. While the football coach is yelling at Larry and the football team yelling at the track team to leave, Larry is speaking about how concentration and listening to one voice, his voice, is how Jesse will be able to persevere against all the racial noise he’s going to get as he races.
During all the yelling, all of a sudden you hear the coaches voice say to Jesse, do you understand? Do you hear me? And the noise drops away from Jesse and hearing his coaches voice above the loud arguing, he says “Yes, I hear you coach.”. It is a wonderful scene and serves Jesse well especially when he goes to the 1936 Olympics and 110,000 people are yelling at him.
As he shows his greatness, the crowd becomes unified with him. It is a great story.
James is outstanding as Jesse. He plays him with humble awareness of doing well and honoring himself as a person. Sudeikis was great as the occasionally sarcastic, caring, and wonderful coach. Banton was wonderful as Jesse’s fiancé and then wife, making sure Jesse makes his own choices. Jeremy Irons was fantastic as the inimitable Avery Brundage. David Kross as Jesse’s Olympic long jump German rival Carl ‘Luz’ Long was great. Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse wrote a wonderfully engaging script. Stephen Hopkins did a wonderful job of directing this film and the shots of Jesse entering the Olympic stadium for the first time were especially effective.
Overall: This was a wonderful biography of a man who stood heads above the fray of racial injustice.