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Soundtrack review: Race (Rachel Portman – 2016)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Race (Rachel Portman – 2016)


“Race” is a 2016 biographical sports-drama film. It is the second feature biopic film about African American athlete Jesse Owens, who won a record-breaking four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. Directed by Stephen Hopkins and written by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse, the film stars Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, William Hurt, and Carice van Houten. This is one of my favorite sports stories and I can’t wait to see the movie. Rachel Portman wrote the score and the combination of sports drama and composer who knows how to write emotion like no other sounds like a winner.

I am all pumped but the first few cues don’t take off. I was ready to write long jump parables and running metaphors and instead I get a few warm up cues. They have a sense of urgency given by the constant percussion in the background and they are nicely melodic but that’s about it. The tension in the music would be great for watching the competition itself and I guess this conclusion just shows that Rachel Portman wrote the score the movie needed. Actually, this is a movie… a dramatization of the story and not a documentary so I need more emotion, I need the score to grab me and make me feel for Jesse.

By the time “US Olympic vote” starts I am checking the information about this score because I feel as if I was listening to a classic Thomas Newman score; the same duality of piano hoy and sadness, the same lightness of the music and the same pleasing listening experience which will leave me with a nice sensation and not much else. Not even the “Training” cue which is usually the core of a sports drama score doesn’t make me want to jump out of my seat. It isn’t a cue Rachel Portman normally writes and the guitar does give me the impression of strength but I don’t see myself putting this one on my running playlists. It’s also strange that the most emotional cue so far is entitled “A business proposal”.

I grab on to “Avery visits Berlin” and try to hold on to it because this is the direction I’d like the score to go in. Things get dramatic here for a change. I like the race cues, they are exciting. But no matter what the music does it can’t erase the impression that I’m listening to a 90’s Thomas Newman compositions.  Not that this is a bad thing, but I came here to hear an inspirational sports drama score, especially for a story like this. Luckily the climax of the musical story delivers and makes me forget all my doubts. The end is what makes me love this score and I am sure I will enjoy it even more in the context of the movie.

Cue rating: 86 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 14 / 49

Album excellence: 28%


Avery Visits Berlin

Arrival at the Games

It’s Not Your Race

The Final Event

Those Are the Rules

Please Take Your Last Jump


Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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