Without Limits


Pros: Crudup; Sutherland; absorbing, emotional story

Cons: none for me

Before I was injured with an incomplete spinal cord injury, I loved to run and once completed the Chicago Marathon with some months’ effort. I plan to run another one as soon as I recover from my injury, but don’t know when that’ll be. So I really enjoyed the 1996 movie Without Limits that was inspired by the short, but ground-shifting life of world-class runner Steve Prefontaine from Oregon. Billy Crudup (Almost Famous) plays him and he promised a wonderful movie experience. I was so right.

His story begins in 1969 when he holds off signing with the University of Oregon until Bill Bowerman, head coach of Track and Field there, personally recruited him. Yes, Steve was vain and stubborn, but he broke records and every college in the county wanted him. Finally Bowerman, played by Donald Sutherland, sends him a letter and he goes. The story develops as two stubborn, proud people learn to admire each other and become better people (and runner) for it. At one point they sigh that they can’t understand each other even after stating exactly how they believe what wins races.


Crudup on the right looks a lot like the real Prefontaine, doesn’t he? Jared Leto also played him in a movie that I saw long ago and looks similar to the runner, but not quite as similar as Crudup. I’ll be getting the Leto movie again and reviewing it.

In a nutshell Steve believes in going all out from the beginning of a race until the end, in not giving a mediocre effort, because running is a work of art. Bowerman was more interested in winning a race with strategy and if that meant a mediocre effort in the beginning of a race, then that’s what should be done. They had a compelling relationship that likewise revealed the art of coaching. Bowerman perfected a running shoe, using a waffle iron, that Steve benefited from. He thought he’d call his shoe Nike.

Besides going to the 1972 Olympic games in Munich and learning that going all out won’t work against the best, as well as the horror of war invading the historically peaceful Olympics, Prefontaine pursues a love relationship with a sweet college student who must be convinced that he’s her type. His story ends tragically in 1975, but I didn’t remember how Leto’s movie ended and it came as a shock. He was planning to go to the Montreal Olympics.


Without Limits is rated PG-13 and I know there was one naked male butt (not Crudup’s) and implied sex scenes, but nothing offensive in language or gore. It runs well under two hours, but it may seem long to you if you find running a boring sport. There were hundreds of “Pre” fans chanting his name like a religious ritual, though, for good reason. He’s an exciting runner and you really want him to win. At least I did. He usually did break national and world records.

I want to run again so badly now. Run without limits or worrying about strategy. Run for fans or making somebody proud. Run for myself and the joy of being free and alive with the power of my human spirit.  Yeah. If you’re not a runner but do pursue another kind of dream that burns deep in your heart, you will get this film. And I promise you’ll never forget Steve Prefontaine.

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