A Review of 'Pre'
All right, so it's not "Gone with the Wind," but It's still a darned entertaining hour and 46 minutes.
Posted Thursday, 30 January, 1997
All right, so it's not Gone with the Wind
. It's still a darned entertaining hour and 46 minutes. I went to see Pre
under ideal circumstances: after a nice 10 mile run in a virtually empty theater on a Tuesday evening. Well, it wasn't completely empty. There was a row of about five college aged youngsters behind me. As it turned out, they were a good control group for a review of this film, as they were obviously not runners, thus not coming into the theater with big expectations, as I was.
This film has been gone over every which way by every running magazine and web site in the USA. I think we can all agree that some liberty was taken by film producers in adding drama to the film. It's not a documentary, but for a drama it seemed to keep falling back on that approach, as if the producers were trying to appease the runners in the crowd. It didn't make sense to me why they would have actors providing a retrospective on Pre's life. Either have the real deal or else skip the documentary approach. My recollection of discus thrower Mac Wilkins was as a real mountain-man looking sort of guy with a bushy beard. The actor who portrayed Wilkins looked as if he just stepped off the set of Baywatch. It was too disconcerting.
Ironically, the best fit among the actors was Jared Leto as Pre. He looked exactly as I remembered Prefontaine, albeit a bit more handsome. Was it me or did Leto's tan seem to get darker as the film progressed, while roommate Pat Tyson got more and more pale? As for Prefontaine's girlfriends, where were Julia Roberts and Claudia Schieffer when we needed them!
Some of the running scenes seemed to stretch the imagination a bit, especially the part where he shows up at the track at 6:00 a.m. to run a time trial mile under the watchful eyes of coaches Bowerman and Dellinger, and cruises a 4:03. The guy was talented, but that's ridiculous. Also, doesn't it rain a lot in Eugene? In every scene, they made the place look like Honolulu. He seemed to be jogging around quite a lot for an American Record holder. How about showing him hunched over, soaked with rain, mud and sweat, running up a big hill? It would have been more realistic. Every race scene was the same, Pre running in the pack, then busting out on the last lap to leave the competition behind, gasping for breath. The one exception to that of course was the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.
Obviously, Munich is the linchpin of the film, as it was Pre's big running moment. Although I knew the outcome of that race, I still found the drama leading up to it riveting. I think all runners can identify with the overwhelming feeling of pressure before a big race, even if not at the Olympic level. They showed the human side of Pre very well there. The treatment of the Israeli hostages was a mixed bag, too. While capturing the angst of the parties involved, the contrast between the real ABC footage with Jim McCay and Leto's depiction of Pre's role was too stark. They made it seem as if no other athletes were affected as much as Prefontaine. The part where he looks the terrorist in the eye was absurd.
One of the best scenes in my opinion was when they showed Lasee Viren winning the 10,000 in World Record time and announcer Eric Segal says "If there is one person who should be very worried, it's Steve Prefontaine." The guys in the room all turn to Pre, who indeed looks very worried. Showing the 5000 meter final, they kept switching back and forth between the acted out version and real footage. They just should have shown the real footage. It was clearly the defining moment of Pre's running career, and he showed all the fire, toughness, and determination that made him a legend, fighting back to take the lead from the more experienced Viren and Ghammoudi. I once read a book about Viren in which he described how clinically he approached the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Games, in which he won both the 5000 and 10,000 meter races. He and his coaches had absolutely, scientifically determined that there was no way he could be beaten by anyone in either race. Viren knew all the tactics and abilities of each competitor and was ready with a plan, which he executed flawlessly. Knowing this made Pre's caution-to-the-wind approach even more dramatic. Those college kids that I mentioned were sitting behind me all let out a huge groan of disappointment when Pre staggered home in fourth place. They were all really into it.
Pre's bubbling over anger and resentment at the "ATU" (why not just say AAU?) made Leto seem like one of those 90210 actors, mad at the world, always ready to blow up at the slightest provocation. They did show a more wistful side of Pre in the scene where he meets up with his old girlfriend, pining away for a simpler life path not taken. No matter how little you knew about running going into the film, you left knowing Pre wanted to run against the best, and be the best. Although it appears contrived in parts, those who knew Pre insist the fire within did indeed burn that hot. Wouldn't it be a hell of a sport if we all took that approach? Of course it would also help if we had the oxygen uptake level of Prefontaine, which tested out among the highest ever recorded. The guy had great genes in addition to his drive, although this was never mentioned in the film.
This story does not have happy ending, as we all know. Runners and non-runners alike were left at the end with a wonderment of what might have been. The producers did gloss over Prefontaine's blood alcohol level at the time of his death, but what would that have added to the film? The scene at the end was moving, as the clock slowly ticks down from Pre's record 5000 meter time towards zero. It's not often that our sport is so graphically displayed on the silver screen. Pre was a running legend, a hero to many. I was moved by the film, and think you will be too. Don't miss it.