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MOVIE REVIEW

A runner's high from 'Spirit of the Marathon'

January 24, 2008|Gary Goldstein | Special to The Times

The best sports movies all have one thing in common: a strong and relatable emotional core that transcends whatever athletic pursuit the film involves. This tenet holds especially true for the fine new documentary "Spirit of the Marathon," which takes a passionate look at long-distance running, culminating at 2005's Chicago Marathon.

Even if you've never run for anything but a bus, you'll likely get swept up in this movie's inspiring journey of physical endurance and personal achievement.

Producer-director Jon Dunham, a marathon runner and USC film school graduate, has crafted an efficient yet comprehensive study that focuses on six intensely dedicated runners as they prepare for Chicago's annual 26.2-mile footrace.

These intimate portraits of seasoned athletes Deena Castor (a 2004 Olympic bronze medalist) and Kenya-born marathoner Daniel Njenga, along with four average Chicagoans -- Northwestern grad student Lori O'Connor, Boston Marathon hopeful Ryan Bradley, single mom Leah Caille and plucky septuagenarian Jerry Meyers -- are not only absorbing but also lay an affecting base for the film's third act, set during the Windy City's highly popular marathon. Before all is said and done, you'll find yourself wanting to grab a pair of cross-trainers and take to the streets.

Vintage archival footage, as well as comments from running experts such as past marathon champs Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers and Paula Radcliffe, round out the doc, which was shot by Dunham and Sarah Levy and tightly edited by Christo Brock. The movie is also something of a love letter to Chicago, vividly capturing many of the city's most photogenic spots.

"Spirit of the Marathon" is being shown only once tonight, with simultaneous screenings in nearly 500 theaters across the country (with an encore scheduled for Feb. 21). Detailed information is available at www.marathonmovie.com. "Spirit of the Marathon." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. In limited release.

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