YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Movie Review

'Endurance' Goes Distance With International Track Star


In just about every country in the world except our own, Ethiopian gold medalist Haile Gebrselassie is a sports superstar of the first magnitude. The U.S. tends to prefer athletic heroes with more explosive, rapid-fire attributes than those, like Gebrselassie, who can merely run faster over longer distances than any human being on the planet.

For that reason and many others, "Endurance" seems as unlikely a candidate for domestic big-studio release as any film imaginable. Yet from the moment you hear the heart-stopping choral-and-symphony orchestra music following Gebrselassie as he flashes across the Ethiopian countryside, you understand why the folks at Disney believe you will be enraptured by this guy's story.

This stately hybrid of documentary and drama can be viewed as sort of a thinking-man's version of "The Jackie Robinson Story" (1950), which, like "Endurance," employed the real-life subject as a performer in the reenactment of his life.

Members of Gebrselassie's real-life family join him in acting out scenes from his life. The track star's nephew (Yonas Zergaw) plays him as a child, inspired enough by the 1980 gold medal run in the 10,000-meter race by fellow countryman Miruts Yifter to focus his dreams on someday matching that feat. The boy runs six miles to and from school every day with the prospect of punishment for lateness acting as an incentive for improving his time.

This daily regimen adds to the physical toil extracted from working on his family's farm. Neither the painful death of his mother nor his father's stern resistance stops him from going to Addis Ababa and training to be a part of his country's track team, world-renowned for producing such long-distance legends as Yifter and the late, great marathoner Abebe Bikila. All of which is interspersed with footage of Gebrselassie's dramatic run for the 10,000-meter gold medal in the 1996 Olympics, filmed by Mr. Olympic documentary himself, Bud Greenspan.

Writer-director Leslie Woodhead and cinematographer Ivan Strasburg collaborate on a view of the Ethiopian landscape that you would call sumptuous if you didn't already know how harsh it was. (Somehow, you suspect co-producer Terrence Malick, whose "The Thin Red Line" overflowed with meditative pictures of remote land masses, had a hand in these shots.) The scenery's so stunning, it almost makes you forget how stilted and stiff some of the acting is by the largely amateur cast.

Ultimately, you can't label "Endurance" as anything more than an anthem to possibility, and as with most anthems, everything is orchestrated on an ascending curve with no dips or retreats. Even if you dismiss "Endurance" as a device for "psyching" yourself toward physical well-being, you'll be hard-pressed to find one that's more stirring.

* MPAA rating: G. Times guidelines: This inspirational tale is suitable for all ages.


Haile Gebrselassie: Himself

Yonas Zergaw: Young Haile Gebrselassie

Shawanness Gebrselassie: Haile's mother

Tedesse Haile: Young Haile's father

Bekele Gebrselassie: Himself (Haile's father)

Alem Tellahun: Herself (Haile's wife)

Walt Disney Pictures presents from Edward R. Pressman and Terrence Malick, a La Junta LLC production in association with Film Four and Helkon Media Filmvertrieb. Directed and written by Leslie Woodhead; competition directed by Bud Greenspan. Producers Edward R. Pressman, Terrence Malick, Max Palevsky, (co-producer) Sally Roy. Executive producer Wallace Wolf. Co-executive producers Thomas Sumners, Werner Koenig. Associate producers Erin O'Rourke, (competition) David Wason. Original music John Powell. Cinematography Ivan Strasburg. Editors Saar Klein, Oral Norrie Ottey. Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes.

At selected theaters.

Los Angeles Times Articles