“Without Limits” (1998) – Steve Prefontaine is one of the all-time great American long-distance runners, but in 2021, some may not have heard of the man nicknamed Pre. During the early 1970s, however, he was the University of Oregon’s favorite son, and he probably still is. The UofO has held the annual Prefontaine Classic meet on campus for 46 years running (pardon the pun).
Director Robert Towne is no stranger to the sport. He wrote and directed “Personal Best” (1982), a film about a pair of female athletes training for the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics, and 16 years later, he’s back with another track movie, a biopic on Mr. Prefontaine.
Kenny Moore – Steve’s friend – approached Robert about making a Prefontaine movie during the late 1970s, but they ended up working together on “Personal Best”. In the mid-1990s, they revisited the idea, and Moore co-wrote the script with Towne.
That word defined Steve Prefontaine, and Bill Crudup – who played intramural sports at the University of North Carolina – convincingly plays him, as the actor zips around UofO’s Hayward Field like he has Olympic goals of his own after the movie.
“Without Limits” is a straight-up biography, and Towne offers a personal triad for Pre, his collegiate social life (which includes his girlfriend Mary Marckx (Monica Potter)), track accomplishments, and relationship with his coach, Bill Bowerman (Donald Sutherland).
Steve – with more natural gifts than Shaquille O’Neal, albeit they compete in vastly different sports – raced with determined abandon. He ran as hard as possible from start to finish, but Bowerman pulled the reins so Pre would race smarter. They frequently clashed, but they had civil disagreements rather than punitive wars.
In fact, Bowerman refused to be called “Coach”, so Pre and others just called him Bill. Bowerman may have had a matter-of-fact persona, but he commands his subject. Sutherland balances Bill’s gracious respect for his runners, while they, in turn, give deference to his every word. Mostly, because Pre doesn’t always listen.
The long distances races in Eugene and the found footage in Munich (1972 Olympics) look beautiful and authentic, and even though track novices – like this critic – don’t know the sport’s lingo, Towne makes it reasonably easy for us to follow along.
With Steve Prefontaine, just about everyone followed him.
⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Directed by: Robert Towne
Written by: Robert Towne and Kenny Moore
Starring: Billy Crudup, Donald Sutherland, Monica Potter, Matthew Lillard, and Dean Norris
Running Time: 117 minutes
Image credits: Warner Bros.