(Air Date: Week Of 1/29/97)
Steve Prefontaine was the best American runner of the 1970s, holding more records than any other runner, even today. He was a gutsy, fearless kid that didn't let a lack of natural talent stand in the way of his dreams of glory. A poster kid, if you will, for the value of drive over aptitude. He's also a cult figure - beautiful, talented and dead too young. His enduring legacy, though, is not as a track star, but as the catalyst to reform the boards governing amateur athletics in the Unitede States.
At heart, the docu-drama "Prefontaine" is the standard star-athlete-meets-talented-coach-and-they-go-on-to- conquer-the-world story that's been done before and to death. As he did in his vastly superior documentary "Hoop Dreams", I was hoping writer/director Steve James would translate Pre's experience into a commentary and/or indictment of society and the human condition. He gives it the old college try, but with mixed results that don't quite hit the mark. After a tantalizing remark or two about class distinctions in track and field, he proceeds to have nothing further to say on the subject. On the other hand, he has a great deal to say about how amateur athletes were jerked around by the very organization designed to protect their interests. Good, but the message seems to be that only stars should bother sticking up for themselves. The waffle-iron genesis of Nike running shoes was, to be honest, more compelling.
The best thing about Prefontaine is Jared Leto, Jordan on the late, lamented "My So-Called Life". He captures Pre's charisma. He also shows the fire in the belly that made Pre a star. No histrionics here, Leto has a spark in his eyes that says it all. A spark that, as he leaves for the Munich Olympic games, turns to fear. Even though this is Pre's dream, when the moment comes, he softly whispers to his girlfriend, "I'm afraid." Leto lets you see the change without overplaying it. The kid has promise.
Fans of either sports or Jared Leto won't be disappointed by "Prefontaine". Everyone else, though, can safely wait for the next project out of the gate from all concerned.Copyright 1997 Andrea Chase
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