Some have criticized "Prefontaine" as too bland, colorless, akin to a tv movie. Those people probably hated Rocky, The Karate Kid, and The Natural too. No, this is a well-made film, inspirational, and also received two thumbs up from Siskel and Ebert. Much of the story is told as flashbacks by the people in his life, long after his death--mother, father, girlfriends, and coaches. As opposed to the Warner Brothers bio of Steve Prefontaine “Without Limits,” this film makes more use of other people in “Pre’s” life, especially his parents and his high-school girlfriend.
No one could fault either actors’ performance as the iconic “Pre.” Both actors bear an uncanny resemblance to the real man, even his upright running style. Analyzing the Olympic scenes of both the real guy and the actor, its hard to distinguish the two. "Prefontaine" spends more time on the Olympic hostage crisis, a good lesson for those who may have forgotten or never knew what happened there.
One amusing difference between the two films is the explanation for how Pre hurt his foot (requiring stiches) on the eve of his first NCAA championship meet. In “Without Limits” it resulted from some acrobatic sex with a local girl, while it was a foolish swimming stunt in “Prefontaine.”
Any critic must recognize “Prefontaine” as an example of the great work Jared Leto has created since this film. His version of Pre is more combative, determined than Billy Crudup’s. He’s not trying to win any popularity contests, although both films stress Pre’s confrontational attitude with those governing amateur American athletics at the time. The film is about fighting the establishment and hypocrisy but even more about single-minded determination and not allowing any limitation to stand in the way of achievement.
Lesson for life both films drive home: While winning is important, giving every thing you have every second is more important. Pre was quoted prior to competing in the 5,000 meter race at the Munich Olympics: “if it’s a guts race, I’m the only one that can win.”
It is hard to imagine such a monumental cultural impact on sports and culture coming from a track athlete, but it really happened—Nike co-founder Phil Knight compared him to Mohammed Ali, and the obvious comparison is to actor James Dean. I highly recommend this film to track and field fans and also movie-lovers who cherish true-life inspirational stories.
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