Dir. Stephen Hopkins | ★★★☆☆
It’s disappointing but not surprising, given Hollywood's unfortunate record with diversity, that it's taken 80 years for the fascinating story of Jesse Owens to get a biopic. After all, it's only a couple of years since both Martin Luther King (Selma) and Jackie Robinson (42) were given the big screen treatment. Nevertheless, the man stepping into the shoes of an icon is Stephan James, playing a young Owens as he defies prejudice and the odds to make history in front of Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
There are two avenues most biopics walk – reverential tribute or gritty analysis. Sadly, Race does the former. Starting in Owen's humble home town, where the even humbler hero is told he is destined for great things, we travel to Berlin where the film becomes a story of Owens (and, by extension, America) squaring up ideologically to the growing threat of the Nazi Party. The story is begging for more insight, glossing over anything that might make anyone uncomfortable, which in this case means skipping past many of the racial tensions that existed in America itself. However, that's not to say recounting the story of Owens' triumph isn't fascinating.
As the close up poster suggests, the film rests on the shoulders of James, who puts his heart and soul into every scene, even in the more questionable moments such as the dubious romantic side-plot. He has chemistry with Jason Sudeikis, the comedy actor putting in a capable dramatic performance as Owens' coach. Elsewhere, prestige actors such as Jeremy Irons and Carice van Houten flesh out the politics of the Olympics, which threatened to overshadow the action in the stadium. In the end, the good guys are victorious, and you can't help being moved. But once that lump in your throat goes away, there's the lingering sense that we've seen how the story came to pass, but not why it remains important to a country still struggling with its own identity.
Warcraft: The Beginning
Duncan Jones' ambitious adaptation of the popular video game, where mythical land Azeroth must contend with an invading hoard of Orcs. The Moon director's latest is arguably one of the first films to accurately capture the look and feel of the video game it is adapting. However, it loses the other half of the battle by stuffing its two hour running time with so many names, places and powers that none of our heroes get any time to develop, leading to an oddly emotionless final showdown. Perhaps the biggest casualty of this chaos is the cast, in particular lead Travis Fimmel whose time is mainly spent delivering sarcastic quips. Indeed, perhaps only Toby Kebbell (as an Orc warrior) and Ben Foster's mysterious mage draw any kind of empathy as the story unfolds. There is plenty of potential in this franchise, but as it stands Warcraft's beginning proves pretty but disappointing.
Me Before You
Mother Of Dragons Emilia Clarke steps out of the Game of Thrones universe to play Louisa, a charmingly awkward young woman who falls for Will (Sam Claflin), a wealthy young man paralysed by a motorcycle accident. One look at the trailer will tell you everything you need to know about the type of film this is – idyllic settings, a beautiful young couple, and an obstacle that threatens to tear them apart. It's not original, but thanks to the actors involved the shameless tear-jerking proves quite effective. Clarke shows a relatable side to her character (even if the goofiness is laid on thick sometimes), while Claflin has both the charm to make the romance believable and the depth to portray his character's emotional predicament. Me Before You is exactly the sort of weepie Hollywood specialises in, and while the twists are predictable, they still may have you reaching for the tissues.
The Nice Guys
A 70s-set comedy starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe as two detectives who stumble and punch their way through Los Angeles getting to the bottom of a government conspiracy. The story wanders around, delivering a surprising amount of violence in its wake, but the film's appeal lies in the writer and its leads. Shane Black's script is riotously funny and smart, evoking the snappy Lethal Weapon dialogue that made his name. He also picked the perfect duo to deliver those lines. The cool persona Gosling cultivated in his best roles goes out the window, becoming the highlight of the movie with a surprising knack for slapstick. Alongside Crowe's deadpan toughness, it's a coupling that keeps you entertained throughout, glossing over any inconsistencies in the plot. Overall, The Nice Guys doesn't redefine the action comedy, but it is a reminder of how good that genre can be.