A biography that tests the limits of the word "documentary,""Endurance" is 90 percent recreation in the tradition of "America'sMost Wanted," but applied to a hero instead of a criminal.
The film -- about Ethiopian long distance runner HaileGebrselassie, the Tiger Woods of track and field -- is bookended by documentaryfootage of his record-breaking 10,000-meter win at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics(one of 7 gold metal and 15 world records he holds).
But the bulk of the picture recreates his hardship upbringingin the dry north African veldt in biopic format, with Gebrselassie playinghimself through most of the story while relatives play themselves and hisdead mother.
Gebrselassie is an interesting guy, if a little uncharismatic,and his life is a classic overcoming adversity parable (poverty on a measureunfamiliar to Americans, long walks to school and the local spring) thatis lent an exotic air by its location.
But the surprising technique is a little hard to followat times and smacks of a TV docudrama (although no network would air somethingthis foreign and unconventional), leading one to wonder what may have beenenhanced for dramatic effect.
Furthermore, there are jumps in the recreation of Gebrselassie'schildhood that give the film a sloppy feeling of condensed storytelling-- like when he's just running (as he does everywhere) through a fieldand a coincidental passerby asks him if he wants a coach, essentially recruitinghim on the spot to train for the Ethiopian Olympic team. It couldn't havereally happened that way, could it?
The film occasionally flashes on the screen nuggets ofinformation that serve as chapter cards -- "He placed 99th in hisfirst marathon." "Two years of hard training." "1,000others with the same dream." Sometimes it does this in quick successionand skips over important anecdotal framework. In fact, the narrative jumpsfrom his early training to the Olympic climax without giving the audienceany feeling for how he improved over those two years and how he emergedas one of the greatest contenders in his sport.
Written (although I'm not sure what that means here) anddirected by English documentary maker Leslie Woodhead, "Endurance"is handsome, but doesn't shy away from harsh and detailed realities ofGebrselassie's early life. He owns no shoes or socks until his chance meetingwith his coach, he walks several hours every day to fetch water in gascans strapped to burros and flies often crawl on actors (characters?) faces,like they do on kids in famine charity ads on TV.
But while it is a little inspiring, the movie doesn't haveenough punch to keep an audience interested in something as monotonousas marathon running, despite its best attempts to enhance many scenes withexcessive Foley effects (sheep bay and roosters crow excessively on hisfather's sparsely populated farm) and with triumphant tribal music thatpulses on the soundtrack any time Gebrselassie breaks into even a briskwalk.