Without Limits


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



3 November



Adolf Dassler born, 1900

On this day in 1900, Adolf Dassler, known to his friends as Adi, was born, in Herzogenaurach, Bavaria, Germany. A cobbler by training he started making his own sports shoes after returning from the First World War. He got his big break at the Amsterdam Olympics of 1928, where his running shoes were popular with athletes. At the 1936 Olympics Dassler offered Jesse Owens a pair of his running shoes, the first time an African American had had a sponsor. Dassler joined the Nazi party, along with his brother Rudolf, but later left the party and in fact shopped his brother to the occupying authorities as a member of the SS when the war ended. Shortly thereafter the Dassler brothers dissolved their company – Gebrüder Dassler Shuhfabrik (Dassler Brothers Shoes) – and went their separate ways, Adi to found Adidas (as in Adi Dassler) and Rudi to found Ruda, which later became Puma. Both companies are still headquartered in Herzogenaurach.



Without Limits (1998, dir: Robert Towne)

A fascinating and overlooked film co-written and directed by Robert Towne, the legendary writer of Chinatown, and starring Billy Crudup as charismatic runner Steve Prefontaine, whose antics off the track, long hair and Beatle moustache made him something of a countercultural pin-up in the early 1970s. Crudup was on the brink of great things when he made this – what happened there? – so was perfectly poised to play a natural talent on the verge of a breakthrough. It’s a hagiography, for sure, but it’s a nicely done one, and has fascinating info-gobbets about the making of the Nike running shoe, as developed by Bill Bowerman, Prefontaine’s trainer (and founder of Nike along with track star Phil Knight). Bowerman is played with subtlety and great grace by Donald Sutherland, and the scenes between the runner and the trainer – each wanting the same thing but with different ideas about getting there – sees both actors digging deep (as they always seem to say about runners). Tom Cruise is the film’s producer and it’s tempting to watch the whole film as a surrogate Cruise movie – topgunnin’ runner who does things his way, overcomes obstacles, refuses to play by the rules, throws the odd tantrum – a temptation that must be resisted. It’s the race scenes, ultimately, that make this film a success, Towne cleverly using original commentary to add verisimilitude as “Pre” pounds around the track, rarely pacing himself, going simply as fast as he could all the time, and in the process rewriting America running’s record books and changing the way amateur athletes were rewarded. He didn’t do the Nike brand any harm either.



Why Watch?


  • Billy Crudup warming up for the career that never was
  • Though far too old, Tom Cruise did consider himself for the title role
  • Conrad Hall’s cinematography
  • A sports movie which, unusually, isn’t about a team game


© Steve Morrissey 2013



Without Limits – at Amazon





4 thoughts on “Without Limits”

  1. Jaded by Hollywood’s usually pathetic efforts to portray the real world of sports, I was prepared to be disappointed by this movie. I grew up in Oregon, attended U of O (the setting for much of the movie), and witnessed some of the events portrayed. So it was with a surge of satisfaction that I watched this movie that got it right at each point along the way. The attention to detail was astounding, and the recreation of races was uncanny – I compared it to actual news photos later, and the actors playing competing runners were chosen so well that their bodies and running styles actually match the original men. When a movie cares this much about being faithful to details, you can be sure it will take a quality approach overall. Billy Crudup’s portrayal of Pre is full of inner fire and consistent with the real man; Donald Sutherland is marvelously powerful and yet understated as Bill Bowerman; the examination of the real reasons athletes compete is thorough and moving. Innovative use of music and camera work brings the race scenes to life, and if this movie doesn’t make you want to immediately go out for "a quick ten," you’re a completely hopeless sedentarian– in heart and body. This is among the five finest movies about athletics ever made.

  2. Though I liked PREFONTAINE, Steve James’ version of the same story, this is much better. That was straightforward biography, where this captures the poetry of running (James’ film was prose, this is poetic). As he proved with PERSONAL BEST, Robert Towne understands the nuances of track and of athletes. Crudup is excellent as Steve Prefontaine, and even looks like a runner. And Sutherland gives the performance of his career as Bill Bowerman. I truly hope it lands him an Oscar nomination. I also hope Towne gets to direct more often, as all three films of his are winners.

  3. I grew up in Eugene and saw almost every race Pre ever ran. He was a crowd hero. There were always two races…the one Pre ran and the one, way back, that the rest of the runners ran. There was nobody like him. He was talented, cocky and had so much charisma. He really was outspoken in the press and took no guff from the AAU. He was the best thing that ever happened to track. Seeing the movie was like deja vu. It was a really well done recreation of what it was like to be at Hayward Field during his races. I went to the memorial service at Hayward Field and saw Frank Shorter and Bill Bowerman speak. This movie certainly made me reflect back!

  4. Having run track competitively, I had a special interest in this film and I was not disappointed. This film dramatized the life of Steve Prefontaine, a pre-eminent U.S. distance runner in the 1970’s.

    Though some of the details of his life were fudged for dramatic purposes, the essence of Prefontaine was preserved, namely his brash egotistical style of running and living. In addition to its realism regarding the sequences filmed on the track, this film gives a good account of the psychology of running.

    Robert Towne did a fabulous job overall with this film, but especially with the realism of the scenes on the track. The dramatic element, focusing on character development of Prefontaine as a person as well as a runner was also well done, elevating it above your typical sports documentary and improving its entertainment value.

    Billy Crudup gives a fine performance as Pre. He captures the arrogance and the crushing disappointment of his life. He was also terrific in the running scenes.

    Donald Sutherland was also great as Coach Bill Bowerman. Sutherland played the part with the perfect balance of patient guidance and frustration as Pre continued to ignore his prudent advice. It was as if he were trying to guide a lightning bolt.

    This was an excellent sports story. I rated it an 8/10. Even for those who are not fans of track and field and never heard of Steve Prefontaine, this is an entertaining and absorbing film.

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