Like most sports films, Prefontaine has its share of predictable moments of beating the odds, and individual hubris, but Steve James goes beyond that, providing a raw, unvarnished look at one of the most gifted, and most unstable, Olympic athletes in recent history.
A small kid, Prefontaine (Jared Leto, Suicide Squad) wasn’t a starter for his little league team, and got beaten up on the football field. Though he wasn’t built like a runner, and one leg was shorter than the other, Prefontaine was determined to be good at something. Sheer will and determination lead Steve to the winner’s circle. It’s not long before he’s being scouted by legendary Oregon coach Bill Bowerman (R. Lee Ermey, Full Metal Jacket). Bowerman, who manufactures running shoes in his garage with the help of his wife’s waffle iron, would go on to co-found Nike. For Prefontaine, his desire to achieve greatness often seems at any cost. Yes, it takes a lot of talent, and dedication to be an elite athlete, but Prefontaine suggests that Steve’s need to excel was an obsession. For him, victory was everything; falling short was not an option.
Prefontaine intermixes fictional recreations with documentary style interviews to create a fascinating portrait of a complex main. The film is particularly fascinating in the second half, as Prefontaine represents his country at the 1972 Summer Olympics. The filmmakers do a wonderful job of creating a sense of time and place. This is particularly evident in their recreation of the tragedy at the Munich Olympic games, and the central role the events played in Prefontaine’s life afterward.
The film features a solid cast of talented performers who seem to understand their characters. Jared Leto delivers a fine performance as the lead, mixing the confident man on the track with the insecurities derived from his youth; insecurities that drove him, but often made life away from the track difficult. Ed O’Neill and R. Lee Ermey are terrific as Prefontaine’s coaches, both of whom have an undeniable love for the track and seem to know every detail about the sport. The film also benefits from Breckin Meyer as Pat Tyson, Steve’s roommate at Oregon, and Amy Locane as Steve’s girlfriend Nancy.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this is a noticeable upgrade from Mill Creek’s Blu-ray release in 2016. The film was shot on Super16 due to budget constants, meaning the image is rather soft. However, it remains consistent throughout, and the running scenes have a realistic sense of motion. Colors are solid, and faces appear natural throughout. The image looks good throughout. While Prefontaine will never be a standout on Blu-ray because of the way the movie was filmed, Kino has delivered a solid transfer.
The audio is offered in both a 5.1 Surround and 2.0 DTS-HD Master. Crowd scenes show minor separation, and the rock songs from artists like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, The Who and others have an appropriate amount of bass. Dialogue is clean, clear, and concise throughout.
English subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Steve James: James is refreshingly honest, discussing how budget cuts affected the filming, Jared Leto’s commitment to the role, working with the other actors, etc.
- Trailer (HD, 0:29)
Movie title: Prefontaine (1997)
Director(s): Steve James
Actor(s): Jared Leto, R. Lee Ermey , Ed O'Neill , Breckin Meyer , Lindsay Crouse , Amy Locane
Genre: Drama, Sports, Biography
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