Prefontaine

on January 24, 1997 by Wade Major
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   With two-thirds of the "Hoop Dreams" team behind it--co-writer/director Steve James and co-producer/cinematographer Peter Gilbert--"Prefontaine" comes off a bit like two-thirds of "Hoop Dreams," both in length and execution, proving its makers somewhat less capable at recreating real-life sports drama than at capturing it.
   A rough-and-tumble account of the life of mercurial long-distance runner Steve Prefontaine (Jared Leto), whose obsessive and winning ways captivated America until his untimely automobile death in 1975, this Hollywood Pictures effort is something of a cinematic curiosity, blending conventional narrative filmmaking with faux documentary interviews and actual archival footage of the real "Pre" in action. The net effect of this ambitious approach is uneven, producing rousing race sequences on the one hand, while needlessly fragmenting what could have been a cohesive narrative on the other.
   Fortunately, the events of Prefontaine's life--the historic 1972 Munich Olympics in particular--remain sufficiently compelling on their own to overcome the film's dramatic inadequacies, at times even recalling portions of "Rocky" and "Chariots of Fire." Leto is the greatest beneficiary of these moments, seizing upon the opportunity to convincingly capture Prefontaine's egotistical, enigmatic, obsessive, charismatic personality even when the script fails to do so.
   Supporting performances are mostly good, with R. Lee Ermey and Ed O'Neill noteworthy standouts as Prefontaine's coaches. More problematic as Pre's German-born mother is Lindsay Crouse, whose exaggerated accent merely augments an already jocose caricature. Viewers disappointed with the film's treatment of Prefontaine's life, however, won't have long to wait before Hollywood takes another stab at the famous athlete. With a competing Tom Cruise-produced/Robert Towne-written project due out later this year, the Prefontaine revival has only just begun. Starring Jared Leto, R. Lee Ermey, Ed O'Neill, Amy Locane and Lindsay Crouse. Directed by Steve James. Written by Steve James and Eugene Corr. Produced by Irby Smith, Jon Lutz, Mark Doonan and Peter Gilbert. A Buena Vista release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language. Running time: 106 min
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