Pros: Leto; pretty exciting, haunting story
Cons: Disney film; not as good as another film
I didn’t realize that Prefontaine was a Buena Vista Production until the end credits, but I suspected as much from early on. Recently I enjoyed Without Limits, also about the great runner from Coos Bay, Oregon released a little later, and while it didn’t have the involvement of the Prefontaine family, it felt more genuine and adult-oriented. If you’re a running fan or a distance runner, you’ll enjoy both for their differences and similarities as I do, but like me I think you’ll find the more recent one with Billy Crudup and Donald Sutherland a little earthier and more powerful.
I enjoyed Prefontaine many years ago and loved it, but tonight as I rewatched it I was comparing it with the other movie and finding it more of a runner-up contestant. It may be because the suspense was gone since I knew the story, but I should be able to lose myself in a good story if it’s told well. Steve’s story still is a great inspiration today for many people, his American records as a student at the University of Oregon gone down in history. Recently I was told that Oregon was celebrating his life many decades after his tragic death. Unfortunately the Disney version didn’t make me tear up, but its final scenes seemed more like the writers had choked on the final stretch. It was maudlin.
This movie shows us little Steve growing up trying to find his sport and getting laughed at or banged up, but finally discovering that he could run. Throughout the movie it’s brought home to us that he needs to prove himself by running faster than the guys with long legs and he often demands to know if he looks like a runner. In one later scene he’s signing autographs for a group of kids and then running the track with them, but not letting them win. Kids watching will get a real kick out of this.
Finally Steve goes to the Olympics in Munich. He’s 21 and has never faced European track stars before, but he talks a good talk. Then Arab terrorists take the Israeli team hostage, suspending the “serene” games, and we see some real news coverage. It’s a horrible wake-up call to reality, but the games continue and Prefontaine has to be convinced to stay for the big race. I thought Disney was going to rewrite history, but they didn’t. Then back in Oregon Steve takes on the A.T.U. for not giving amateur athletes the respect and opportunities they deserve. He wins big time. Everybody’s become his fan in the end, even jealous athletes, even a former girlfriend. His enraptured coach, Bill Bowerman, declared that you would never see another runner like Pre.
I missed the great chemistry between Nike founder Bowerman and Steve that was in Without Limits. I missed how they learned from each other and made each other a better person. In Prefontaine it seemed like that was missing, but more interested in making Steve a good guy who loves kids and running after his dreams. It’s not a bad movie and Jared Leto is quite engaging as Steve, but he and R. Lee Ermey as Bowerman don’t seem as intense as Crudup and Sutherland. Leto’s movie is fine for kids, but its 141 minutes isn’t my favorite version of Pre’s story.