Picks and Pans Review: Without Limits

updated 09/21/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/21/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Billy Crudup, Donald Sutherland, Monica Potter

Steve Prefontaine, the dominating distance runner who died at 24 in a 1975 car wreck, wasn't one for clever tactics. His running strategy was simple: Stay in front.

Without Limits, a movie about Pre (as his fans always called him), could have taken a lesson from the runner. The film is a choice, intelligent work and features a blazing performance by Crudup (Inventing the Abbotts) as Pre and a wily, subtle one by Sutherland as running guru Bill Bowerman, his coach at the University of Oregon (and the co-founder of Nike). Limits is the second film about the athlete to cross the finish line; Prefontaine, in which Jared Leto chugged along as the brash distance champ, already came through theaters over a year ago with scant notice.

Both movies run the same track, showing Prefontaine's working-class upbringing as the only son of German-speaking parents, his college years, his failure to place at the 1972 Munich Olympics and his battles over rules set by the powerful Amateur Athletics Union. And both have fun with Bowerman's cooking up shoe soles in his wife's waffle iron ("Not again," whines the wife in Limits. "I promised the kids waffles for Sunday brunch"). But Limits, as directed by Robert Towne (Tequila Sunrise) and cowritten by Towne and Kenny Moore (a writer for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and a marathoner who ran with Prefontaine at Munich), is clearly the superior film. For those who missed Prefontaine but still care avidly about the subject, this one is worth seeing. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Late start, strong finisher

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