Without Limits is the second biopic of Olympic track athlete Steve Prefontaine (following last year’s Prefontaine). Both films hit all the same bases, and have about the same effect: a modest appreciation, but little understanding of the man.
Steve Prefontaine (Billy Crudup) is introduced through the eyes of college scouts. “Pre” is the most sought after high school runner in the country, and every prestigious college can’t wait to recruit him. However, Pre has his sights on the University of Oregon, where the legendary Bill Bowerman (Donald Sutherland) coaches.
The film doesn’t display a very high opinion of running coaches. Bowerman’s only advice to Prefontaine is to avoid “front running”, a bad habit which Pre refuses to break, and with which he wins. Aside from that, the grand strategy in this film seems to simply be: run faster.
The film follows Pre, both as a collegiate athlete, an olympian, and later as an “amateur” athlete. Through it all, he’s the consummate rebel. He never wants to simply run with the crowd…he always wants to lead the pack.
More than the previous Prefontaine biopic, Prefontaine, Without Limits gets us on a personal level with Steve Prefontaine. It’s too bad the Pre Without Limits shows us isn’t all that interesting. He’s just another romanticized version of the “doomed athlete”. We never find out what makes him tick…or why he was important enough to merit two movies about his life.
Billy Crudup plays Pre with all the spit and polish deserving a wonder-boy athlete. There are no rough edges, yet no real defining character distinctions, either. Donald Sutherland fares better as his coach, though at times he seems like he’s starring in a Nike commercial (a company with which the real life Bowerman was involved).
The story itself is more or less straightforward, but there are odd little gaps here and there. They’re kind of like holes in memory…it doesn’t seem like anything is missing, but things don’t quite flow right. Whether this was the filmmakers’ intent, or just the result of some sloppy editing, the result is a vague outline of the events in Pre’s life, rather than a clear picture.
Without Limits is not completely satisfying. But it does manage to conjure up a sense of respect for an athlete who, after nearly 30 years, has likely faded from most memories.