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Prefontaine

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  •  
    John Gargo
    Senior Member

  • Prefontaine



    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment
    Released on: April 5th, 2016.
    Director: Steve James
    Cast: Jared Leto, R. Lee Ermey, Ed O'Neill, Breckin Meyer, Lindsay Crouse
    Year: 1997
    Purchase From Amazon


    The Film:

    "I'm going to work so that it's a pure guts race at the end, and if it is, I am the only one who can win it." This is a characteristically cocky quote from the great American middle and long-distance runner Steve “Pre” Prefontaine. At the time of his tragic death in a car accident at age 24 in May 30, 1976, Pre held a records in seven different track events ranging from 2,000 to 10,000 meters. Pre was able to rise himself up from obscurity (he came from a small town in Oregon called Coos Bay) to become arguably the most famous American runner of his generation. At the height of his career, he memorably competed in the infamous 1972 Summer Olympics at Munich. The dramatic life of Pre is thus a perfect subject for a film, and indeed Steve James's Prefontaine (1997) was one of two films in the late 1990s to try their hand and telling his life story (the other was Robert Towne's more conventional biopic Without Limits).

    Writer and Director Steven James is of course best known for his epic documentary Hoop Dreams (1994), and Prefontaine is the filmmaker's attempt at directing a narrative feature. He avoids the all-too-common mistake that often occurs when directors who have achieved fame in the documentary genre attempt the transition to narrative cinema (see Michael Moore's Roger and Me and Joe Berlinger's Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2) by smartly utilizing his talents. Whenever characters are introduced in Prefontaine, James inserts pseudo-documentary-style interview sequences where they share their thoughts on the runner's life and over-sized personality. It's an ingenious method that lends an air of documentary authority to the film.

    In the title role, Jared Leto is superb and looks eerily similar to the real-life athlete; he does such a convincing job inhabiting the role that Pre's real-life sister was moved to tears when she first saw Leto's performance in the film. What makes Prefontaine such an unusual and fascinating sports film is that its title character is not a conventionally “saintly” underdog figure. Pre was immensely talented, and he was never afraid to let anyone know it. While the film features many examples of Pre's propensity for bragging, it also reveals that behind the boasting was a person who was riddled with feelings of doubt, fear and inadequacy.

    The other larger-than-life persona in the film is coach Bill Bowerman, who is played by none other than R. Lee Ermey. Bowerman famously constructed running shoes by utilizing a waffle iron, and would achieve fame as being one of the co-founders of Nike. It's always nice to see Ed O'Neill in a dramatic performance and he does an excellent job playing the role of assistant coach Bill Dellinger. Breckin Meyer and Brian McGovern portray two of Pre's fellow track teammates, and the film also features strong performances from actresses Amy Locane and Laurel Holloman as Pre's girlfriends; these four supporting roles offer the viewer insight into the runner's professional and private life.

    The interesting thing about Prefontaine is the political dimension of the film; in this sense, the narrative charts not only Pre's career as a runner, but his growing political awareness as well. When Pre first arrives at the University of Oregon, it is 1969 and the anti-Vietnam war movement is in full swing. An early sequence in the film shows Pre passing a group of protestors and flipping them off before jumping onto, and literally running over, a car spray-painted with a peace sign. Pre initially viewed politics as an unnecessary distraction from his own hopes and dreams of being the world's greatest runner. Arguably the pivotal event in the film is the Munich massacre, where eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team where taken hostage, and eventually killed, by Palestinian terror group Black September. When Pre returns home to Oregon following the Olympics, he's a much more cynical and politically active person. The final third of the film atypically concerns Pre's activism on behalf of the rights of American amateur athletes and their lack of resources. It is precisely this unconventional final act that distinguishes Prefontaine from most sports biopics, and makes it highly recommended to those who wouldn't normally find themselves watching a film about running.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Mill Creek Entertainment's Blu-ray of Prefontaine is presented in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition 1.85:1 widescreen transfer. This disc does not offer the viewer a very satisfying video experience; the picture is often soft and lacking in details. There are no glaring errors to report but the experience is akin to watching an up-converted DVD.

    The audio on this disc is a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track and it is a similarly lackluster affair. One really notices blandness of the audio track when songs like The Who's “Baba O'Riley” and Creedence Clearwater Revival's “Fortunate Son” lack their anthemic punch as they come out of your speakers.

    Given its real-life subject matter, the biggest disappointment of the Blu-ray is the utter lack of special features. A film like Prefontaine would have benefited from some input with the filmmakers (for instance, Steven James contributed an audio commentary to Criterion's release of Hoop Dreams), but even a conventional bio on Pre would have been a welcome addition.

    The Final Word:

    Prefontaine is a much more interesting biopic than one might expect; most of the credit must go writer/director Steve James for using the life of the famous athlete as a springboard for political concerns. That being said, James never allows the politics to overshadow his main subject, and it must be stressed that Jared Leto is particularly impressive in the lead role. The biggest compliment that I can give the film is that it is interesting even if you have little interest in running.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!



















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