Stephen Hopkins’ film based on the incredible true story of four time Olympic Gold Medalist Jessie Owens is a great film and a miracle to behold in the way it covers all the bases of this man’s incredible true story. With a script by Joe Shrapnel & Anna Waterhouse, not since CHARIOTS OF FIRE have we had a true story of the Olympic Games so beautifully told. Having competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games where Adolph Hitler was seeking to use the Games to promote himself and the Third Reich, Jessie was under undue pressure to either boycott or succeed under the most horrible of circumstances. Reviled at home because of his race and in the face of Hitler’s Master Plan, things must at times have seemed insurmountable. The fact that the United States came very close to boycotting the Games due to what was happening to the Jews in Germany and was saved by the campaigning of Olympic Chairman Avery Brundage to keep the U.S. involved is vividly explored here. It’s a film that details the incredible injustices that were happening in the United States where African Americans were concerned and the incredible hypocrisy of many Americans to point the finger at Eastern Europe. What I really enjoyed is that no stone was left unturned, with the beautiful story of how Germany’s Golden Boy, Karl “Luz” Long helped Jessie achieve his goals at these Olympic games by helping him on the track (and risking his own success) and becoming his friend. Hitler was so infuriated by what he perceived as his Master Plan being subverted at these Games by someone he considered of the “mongrel class” and not his Aryan Superman that he refused to congratulate Jessie even with Mr. Brundage at his side. Karl Long ruined his career in the eyes of Hitler and was sent to the front lines were he died in the Battle of Sicily, just as Hitler had planned. Even Leni Riefenstahl, a brilliant filmmaker who was chosen by Hitler to document the Games is shown as a true artist who was caught up in a terrible situation, going so far as to defy Hitler when he ordered her to stop documenting the Games when it was becoming aware that Jessie was the true star of the show. I liked the fact that not all Germans were shown as fanatical racists blindly following the orders of a madman. After all the German Jews who were murdered in Germany were as German as members of Hitler’s chosen. Superbly cast with Stephen James as Jessie, Jason Sudeikis as his Coach Larry Snyder (and the reason Jessie was given the opportunities that he was), Jeremy Irons as Avery Brundage, William Hurt as Jeremiah Mahoney, a magnificent Carice van Houten as Leni Riefenstahl, Shanice Banton as Ruth Solomon Owens & David Kross as Carl Long, along with a magnificent cast of actors too long to mention. This film’s production design beautifully recreates the mid 1930s and from what I understand was done on a 5 million dollar budget, which I actually believe has to be a misprint. It has the look of a 100 million dollar film, but when quality and genius collide who knows. I hope this film is not forgotten at next year’s Academy Awards, but again as what happens to many quality films released early in the year, they often get forgotten. I’m praying this won’t be the case here.
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