1998, PG-13, 118 min. Directed by Robert Towne. Starring Billy Crudup, Donald Sutherland, Monica Potter, Jeremy Sisto.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Nov. 6, 1998
Winning a race was not a matter of strategy to Steve Prefontaine: It was a matter of sheer willpower. Always the front-runner, he believed that he had to constantly push himself full throttle; to do less would betray the spirit of the competition. Without Limits traces the short-lived but amazing career of track star Prefontaine -- known by his zealous fans as “Pre” -- from his days as a college sports phenomenon at the University of Oregon to his disappointing showing at the 1972 Olympics to his tragic death in a car accident at age 24. A complicated personality, to say the least, Prefontaine is depicted in Without Limits as an enigma of sorts, a confounding character you can't figure out. He's at once noble and self-serving, principled and sly, perceptive and clueless. For Bill Bowerman, the legendary track and field coach who attempted (and not always successfully) to shape Prefontaine into a more traditional runner, it was the dichotomous nature of his protégé that both fascinated and frustrated him. It is the relationship between Prefontaine and Bowerman that serves as the narrative framework for Without Limits, which depicts the friendship that develops between these two very different men without resorting to creaky sentimentality. (That is, until the film's eulogistic end, when Prefontaine goes from man to myth in a way that seems contrary to his character.) As Prefontaine and Bowerman, respectively, Crudup and Sutherland nicely handle their roles, in which the student/teacher relationship is often blurred. Crudup's relative anonymity as an actor serves him well here, and Sutherland hasn't had the chance to create as memorable a character as this in a long time. Director-coscreenwriter Towne is no stranger to this genre -- he also directed Personal Best, another film set in the world of track and field -- and his execution of the film's race sequences is exhilarating. The intercutting of slow-motion and real-time during these contests of physical endurance gives these scenes an almost fantastic feel, which is all the more enhanced by Randy Miller's rock-inspired score and the period songs. It's too bad that Without Limits has been released with so little fanfare and buried in the season's lineup of fall films. It's a good, solid little film about a man whose story deserves better.