Although each movie covered the same subject matter, the two movies could not be more different.
Prefontaine is presented as a documentary - it throws in lots of facts (we are led to believe are true). These facts however takeaway from the story-line. Having too much accuracy gives you too many characters to follow and care about - the title says Prefontaine, but there is no time to develop all the walk-on roles surrounding the main character and the main character also suffers because of this. I felt Leto did not play his role that well; and although I like Ermey in all his war movies, he would not have been my choice for Bowerman. It is a decent documentary of the last 5 years of Pre's life and it does show his life well (at least I believe it does). They throw in Vietnam protests as well. I wonder why they didn't throw in all the election results over the five years of the film and the Moon landings and everything else. In a good documentary leaving stuff out is also important - and I think they left WAY TOO MUCH IN.
Without Limits is presented as a true sports film - where the moral and the message serve as the plot line around which the story is attached (some key things are removed from the story or changed to help the audience stay with the message). Without Limits definitely makes a decision for the viewer. A decision about how Pre lived his life, how elusive his goals were, and the athletics environment he lived in. I think Sutherland was the perfect foil for Crudup and the story showed an excellent coach-student relationship. All of the running strategy in this movie seemed well-placed, important and correct (negative splits, final kick, drafting behind the lead). One other thing in this movie is that the romances where shown, but they also had a girl names Mary lay down the law that she doesn't want to be involved with a womanizer. And although we see great love in the film - it is Pre's romance with running and the vibrancy of youth that is more important. This film has lots of people teaching Pre a different way of doing things, and Pre doesn't seem to take people's advice too much.
I liked Without Limits better than Prefontaine. Both movies being watched at the same time however, helped me appreciate the story more completely.
Both movies have jogged the idea that desire is as important for achievement as talent. But at the elite level talent, desire, coaching, training and race strategy make an undefeatable combination. Pre was shown in both films to not dive in to coaching or race strategy well. A claim that I recall he made was that a true runner leads from the front and would not try to win the race with a last minute kick coming from the pack. That's an admirable if naive comment on the facts of life. The 5k and the 10k were always the thinking-woman's/man's races at the Olympics. The different sprints were raw power, and the marathon was endurance. But the 5k and the 10k had strategy, and tactics. Better to run the tangent in last place at the back of the pack for the first half than to run on the outside tied for second last (because you run an amazing 8 yards more per lap in the second lane).
If this film was about Bruce Jenner, or Michael Phelps, it would end with a waving American flag and a big can of made-in-America whoop-a** for each movie goer to take home. But what this film is about is how difficult it was for American athletes at this time to compete on the International stage - and it ends with a tragedy. Perhaps that's why these two films are important - because they did not have any ultimate goal being conquered at the end. They both just glorified the courageous struggle of a runner.
That is something I wish for each of us: courage!