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There’s something unique about the power of competitive sports that allows humanity to put their best foot forward. That was the case in 1936, when Adolf Hitler went back on his promise to exclude Blacks and Jews from the Berlin Games. Ultimately, Jesse Owens entered the games and proceeded to collect a spectacular four gold medals, changing history forever in the process. His story has been lost to the times among sports legends, though if there was an Athletic Mount Rushmore, you’d have to consider throwing Owens right on there.
Hopefully that recognition level will grow with Race, the (admittedly corny) title of the new Jesse Owens film, which is going out to buyers at the Berlin Film Market. The intention is to have the film ready for a spring 2015 release, with shooting to begin this May, and ccording to Variety, the leading man is John Boyega. The young British actor turned heads as the charismatic gang leader in Attack The Block, and while his Spike Lee pilot Da Brick was not picked up, Boyega remains in-demand, as his starring vehicle Imperial Dreams just premiered at Sundance. He’s also pretty consistently linked to the role of Black Panther, though that project still seems a ways away, if it even ever happens.
Racewill be working from a script written by Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel, with direction provided by… whoa, wait, Stephen Hopkins? Where have you been, dude? Hopkins hasn’t directed a theatrically-released film since 2007’s The Reaping. This is a guy who has directed both a Predator (Predator 2) and Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child). His peak as a studio hand was in the nineties, when he was the guy productions pursued when there wasn't enough money to get Renny Harlin. His seedy underworld drama Judgment Night was a cult hit, and he followed that up with the mad bomber drama Blown Away, making perhaps the most nineties double feature of all time. He later directed the spooky The Ghost And The Darkness where Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer went on a supernatural safari.
Hopkins’ presence in the director’s chair is a little worrying, as The Reaping was bad enough to justifiably keep him working on television shows the last few years, but the medium has been the home to some of his biggest successes. He brought a blockbuster scope on FOX TV budgets working on shows like 24, adding to that show’s action bonafides (in fact, he’d be a great choice to direct a 24 movie). His work on television has also earned him some of the best critical acclaim of his career, one of the most notable titles being HBO's The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers, where Geoffrey Rush acted up a storm. The one thing Hopkins never forgets in the midst of the action and suspense is that it’s always about the actors. Witness Under Suspicion, which he made after licking his wounds following the failure of 1998's Lost In Space - a no-win proposition of a blockbuster. Under Suspicion features both Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman, and while Hopkins makes attempts to gussy up a straightforward narrative (the movie more or less takes place inside one room), the focus remains on the stars, two wily pros trying to outwit each other. Maybe Hopkins has a little bit of that still in him for Race. Our fingers are crossed.