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Prefontaine
Starring Jared Leto, R. Lee Ermey, Ed O'Neill, Amy Locane, and Lindsay Crouse.
Directed by Steve James

Little Steve Prefontaine was a runt. He never made the cut on his school baseball or football teams. He was too small. What he developed from those humiliating minutes on the bench was a tenacity which would serve him all his life. He wasn't right for the muscle sports, but he was right for running. He was, perhaps would have been, the first superstar of athletes.

Here's the problem with most sports-themed flicks: they're all runt-overcomes-great-obstacles-to-achieve-greatness. It's what made Rocky work. That isn't the story of Steve Prefontaine, who achieved more by losing a race than he could have if he had taken an Olympic gold medal.

This film about Prefontaine's life is shot pseudo-documentary style. Let's be honest, most people I know would rather eat raw dog food than watch a documentary: too many hideous memories of high school science classes, I'd bet. Until Married With Children's Ed O'Neil shows up, in the guise of one of Prefontaine's coaches, you might very well feel resigned to 106 minutes of PBS-style storytelling. But having a known TV face on screen firmly plants the viewer into movie-watching mode, despite the fact that the story is true.

I'll cut to the chase here folks, Prefontaine is a terrific movie.

Jared Leto portrays the track star from ages 16 to 24, from smart ass to fully formed man. It isn't that the character exudes self-confidence. He rubs your face in it. "Pre" wants to become a miler because that's where all the stars are. His coaches convince him to run the longer 5000 meter race; to make his mark in a race where no one had made a mark before. In real life, he did. In real life, Pre became one of the first track superstars of the post-Vietnam generation. In real life, Pre's attainable goal was an Olympic gold medal at the summer games in Munich.

On the movie screen, Leto's performance is on the mark. It is cocky, it is introspective; real emotions flow in the sequences recreating the massacre at the 1972 Olympic Village and Prefontaine's reaction to the event as his coaches insist that he still run his race.

If there could be "professional jealousy" between college athletes, it is well reflected in Brian McGovern's Mac, an athlete who delivered more points for the team, yet was always one-upped by Pre's star status among the fans. McGovern's is one of many smaller performances that ring true -- as if you are looking at the real person who lived that part of the story, rather than an actor recreating it. The film is full of such performances, including those by O'Neil and R. Lee Ermey, who plays coach Bill Bowerman.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Prefontaine, he would have paid . . .

$7.00

Honestly, I had no desire to see the flick. But every once in a while, my preconceptions are way off the mark. Such is the case here. Prefontaine is highly recommended.

Click to buy films starring Jared Leto
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