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Scarecrow on Seattle: PREFONTAINE

For the past few years, Scarecrow Video has been contributing reviews of movies made in the Pacific Northwest to the Seattle Office of Film + Music's e-newsletter. We're now proud to be able to share these reviews on our site as well.





 Prefontaine (1997)

Jared Leto (post-My So-Called Life, pre-30 Seconds to Mars rockstardom) dons a 70s mustache, sideburns, and a blond mop of hair to play legendary runner Steve Prefontaine in this serviceable biopic. Hoop Dreams director Steve James begins the film documentary-style with talking head interviews from the actors as the real-life people they are playing, already hinting at the tragedy that befalls the gifted runner (Prefontaine died in a car accident at the age of 24). During his childhood in Coos Bay, Oregon, Prefontaine is discouraged from most every other sport. He takes up track, and although he doesn't have the ideal runner's physique he stubbornly runs his way to stardom in high school. He ends up at the University of Oregon under the tutelage of Bill Dellinger (Ed O'Neill) and famous coach/future Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman (R. Lee Ermey, who we first see making a shoe sole with a waffle iron). There he really hits his stride (so to speak), breaking records, building up notoriety, and blazing a trail straight to the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Underneath Prefontaine's boasts and brags lies a profound fear of failure; he won't even let a kid finish in front of him because "I have to win." Leto does fine with Prefontaine's bravado, but the moments where he's supposed to be vulnerable fall a bit flat. The blame lies mostly with the script, as the dialogue does more telling than showing and often feels forced. On the plus side, O'Neill and Ermey do well as good coach/bad coach, and Ermey is always effective when shouting taunts and orders. As far as Northwest locations are concerned, Tacoma's University of Puget Sound stars as late 60s/early 70s University of Oregon. When Prefontaine and his fellow Olympians finally get to Germany, Husky Stadium stands in for the Olympiastadion. Parts of the film were shot in Olympia according to the Internet Movie Database (I lived there when they were filming it and if memory serves a friend's car was enrolled as an extra), but I couldn't find a single shot that I recognized from our state capitol. Thought it's in disguise as "The Paddock," the most obvious Seattle landmark is erstwhile Fremont watering hole Buckaroo Tavern, where fans gather to watch Prefontaine run his Olympic race. When Prefontaine returns home after his disappointing run in Munich he tells his girlfriend, "They might even name a street after me: Fourth Street." I was surprised to learn Seattle's Prefontaine Place wasn't named after him, but I imagine the Prefontaine Drive in Coos Bay is.
--Jen Koogler



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