Saturday, August 29, 2015

Zaki's Original Review: Without Limits

First published: November 13, 1998
Billy Crudup leads the pack as legendary runner Steve Prefontaine
Steve Prefontaine didn't care about the rules. No one could stop him from doing what he was meant to do. No one could stop him from running. In the early '80s, Prefontaine exploded on to the American athletic scene like some human torch. He blazed a trail on the track that left his competitors, not to mention a pile of distance records, in his wake.

It seems that the mystique still surrounding Prefontaine can largely be attributed to the fact that he died in a random road accident in 1974 at age 24. Like Marilyn Monroe or James Dean, he never had a chance to descend into mediocrity. It is this mystique that has prompted two movies chronicling the runner's life in as many years. The first was Prefontaine, starring Jared Leto and R. Lee Ermey.

However, it is the second effort, director Robert Towne's Without Limits that emerges as the superior work. The film presents a wholehearted and honest look at Prefontaine (or "Pre," as he was popularly known). Pre had a supreme confidence that is captured perfectly when he is shown running a race with twelve stitches in his foot. After winning by a leaps and bound, it is shown that he had torn open his foot, leaving it a bleeding mess.

In the lead role, newcomer Billy Crudup (Inventing the Abbots) perfectly captures the dichotomy that embodied the runner. The young actor emerges as a solid and gifted new talent in a role that was at one time earmarked for producer Tom Cruise. While Crudup proves a worthy choice for the lead, the heart and soul of the piece is Donald Sutherland as Pre's coach, Bill Bowerman.

Sutherland's Bowerman is a picture of patience as he attempts to hone, train, and capture in a bottle the lightning that is Prefontaine. In the process, they develop a mutual respect and friendship that transcends the typical Sylvester Stallone/Burgess Meredith model (shades of Rocky). Bowerman was the one who understood that to Pre, "Racing was about testing the limits of the human heart."

Before his death, Prefontaine had vowed that he would best the world record at the upcoming Olympics in Montreal. He never got the chance to follow through on this promise. Still, he believed he could to it. And that was all he needed. B+

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