Why Donald Sutherland As Bill Bowerman May Be The Best Performance In ‘Without Limits’
Welcome to the first breakout post from The CITIUS Cinema Podcast. It’s our new monthly (we think) podcast where we discuss running movies, running in movies, runners in movies and all that good stuff. It is available to download and subscribe now on iTunes and Soundcloud. Do that before you continue reading.
Each month, we take a running film and discuss it at length. The first episode’s movie is the 1998 classic Steve Prefontaine biopic “Without Limits.”
The following is a little bit of the transcript between hosts Kevin Krohn and Nick Laureano discussing who gives the best performance in Without Limits.
Kevin: I thought Monica Potter as Mary was fine but her character was not the best to me but to me, more than Billy Crudup as Steve Prefontaine, it’s definitely Donald Sutherland as Bill Bowerman’s movie. He’s definitely the more interesting character. As I’m thinking about it, it’s almost as if it’s a weird version of The Great Gatsby, where Jay Gatsby survives – that would be Bill Bowerman – and he goes on to put his stamp on the world. Nick dies and somehow goes on to get all the glory. (Prefontaine would be Nick in this case).
Nick: Wow. That’s a pretty good read and I’ve never thought of it like that. I feel like if you ask almost anyone and they would tell you Bowerman. What seals it is not just Donald Sutherland giving one of the best performances. There’s one scene in particular, but it’s also the scene that shows where the film’s interests lie. Ultimately, I think that’s in Bowerman. Obviously, it’s about this relationship but if the film’s interested in one over the other then it’s Bowerman. The scene that really hammers that home for me is when Pre goes on the run and says that they’re going to give him $200,000 to go pro. He takes Bowerman’s shoes. We don’t go with Pre on the run as he’s mulling this over. We get to see Bowerman become kind of distraught because he’s disappointed. We stay at that picnic table by his house. It’s quite sad. My read of it is that he thinks that he’s basically failed Pre because he thinks that he’ll take the money and throw away his Olympic hopes and dreams. Ultimately, I think Bowerman hopes that men of the Oregon would value that over a paycheck even though he knows what it would do for their families. Just seeing him sit there, in short scene (about less than a minute), he’s slouched over on a table and it’s a good character moment. It’s a moment where the movie just stops and breathes. It’s hanging on that performance. When Pre comes back and asks if he can have five more pairs of those shoes made for Montreal, you get to see Bowerman’s eyes light up.
Kevin: The wife comes out and says ‘No, you can’t use my waffle iron!’
Nick: He says for like the third and last time that he doesn’t understand Pre. I find it really touching. That’s the moment where you say that’s his movie.
Kevin: You can also see it in a bunch of his line deliveries. You’re right in saying that’s maybe where we see him and he’s most vulnerable. You see him angry and upset. The thing I appreciate about him the most is that his bemusement with the world. He’s kind of got this line delivery with arched eyebrows thinking just how absurd things are with the AAU, about being called ‘coach’ and all those things. The world is a weird place and we’re running around in it…literally. And yet, there’s a great deal of meaning in all of these things we do.
Nick: They let Bowerman have the last line in so many scenes. Like the part where it’s like, ‘Hey Bill, you ever worry about overreaching?” He’s got that smirk and the eyebrows go way up and he says, “I don’t believe in it” and then closes the door. He also gets the last word in the sauna scene. It’s just those little individual scenes and how they play out, it shows a vested interest in sketching out Bowerman’s character even though he got considerably less screen time than Prefontaine. The time that he is given is very effective.