Prefontaine – Review

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A recent trip to Eugene, Oregon inspired my watching of the biopic Prefontaine. In case you’re not familiar with Eugene, it’s an interesting town. Almost everyone there seems to be either a hardcore runner or a meth head. I’d say the population is 40% runners, 40% meth heads, and 20% people finding their own thing. I’m focused on the runners today. Eugene’s nickname is Track Town, USA (much better choice than Methtropolis, USA). It’s home of the University of Oregon’s Ducks track team and is the birthplace of sneaker company Nike.

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Despite his short time on this  Earth, Steve Prefontaine is one of the most famous American runners in history. He’s an Olympian who went to the University of Oregon, and spent his adult life living in Oregon. On my trip to Euguene, I went running on the Prefontaine Memorial Running Trail in Alton Baker Park. This trail might be my favorite trail on which I’ve ever run. The trail itself is gorgeous. You pass by Autzen Stadium, the home of the Ducks, as well as a tranquil stream lined with what must be the nicest houses in Euguene, and shaded woods. The trail is super soft; I’m guessing there are ground up Nikes mixed in with the wood chips. If you ever find yourself Eugene, make sure you go for a run on this trail.

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It was running on Pre’s Trail that made me want to learn more about his life. Before this, I pretty much only knew that he ran fast and died young. Prefontaine does a good job of telling Pre’s life story. The movie is not a documentary, but every now and again it cuts away to Steve’s friends and family in the present day talking about Steve back then. I was completely fooled into thinking that these were Steve’s actual mother, college girlfriend, etc and thought, wow, they did a great job with making the actors look like young versions of these people! That is, until Bill Dellinger, one of Steve’s college coaches, shows up in the present day, looking just like Ed O’Neill, who played Bill in the movie. You almost had me, makers of Prefontaine! The make-up artists really did a great job of aging the actors to become the older versions of the roles, though now that we’re 17 years removed from the making of this movie, it’s fun to compare the present day/older Bill Dellinger in the movie to the actual older Ed O’Neill today.

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Jared Leto stars as Steve Prefontaine and gives a great performance. He really shows Pre’s drive to be the best. I shouldn’t be surprised by the performance, as Leto’s always been great since My So Called Life. R. Lee Ermey plays Nike cofounder Bill Bowerman for laughs, but what else would you expect from him?

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Halfway through the movie, I thought to myself, is that Chazz’s girlfriend from Airheads? Sure enough, it was. Amy Locane plays runner and Steve’s college girlfriend Nancy Alleman (I love Airheads).

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One my favorite lines in the movie comes after Pre’s lackluster 4th place finish in Munich, when he jokes, “They’ll name a street for me, 4th Street.” According to IMDB, this was actually said by one of Steve’s teammates, and not Steve himself, but it’s a great line nevertheless.

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My only quibbles with the movie is that it seemed to go out of its way to gloss over the contribution of alcohol in Steve’s death and Pre’s contribution to the founding of Nike. Steve was a heavy drinker and reportedly had been drinking the night of his fatal car crash, but the only alcohol seen in the movie seemed to be the beers Steve served working as a bartender or people drinking in the background at parties. As for Nike, the film makes Pre seem like Bowerman’s favorite guinea pig for testing out his sneaker designs, but never shows Pre actually working for the sneaker company, which he did. His only interaction with a pair of actual Nikes in the movie is when he rips off the swoosh logo, saying that it will only cause drag.

Overall, Prefontaine is good biopic and worth searching for on Netflix. Wear your shorts when you watch it, as you’ll likely be inspired to get up and run when the movie finishes.

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