American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
There is some mention that Wes Holman has been coaching for the last 20 years, but more likely he has been brooding. He is a thin, wiry man with a bushy beard and burning eyes. When we see him for the first time, he is watching some runners race up the side of a mountain. Just by the way he looks at the mountain, we can tell how important it is to him. Of course, the dramatic music doesn't hurt.
As Wes Holman was turning to walk back down the road, I was settling down into my seat, convinced that I was doomed to witness yet another formula sports picture. The film would follow Holman's masochistic training regime, and then the climax would be his amazing comeback and victory. It would all be very predictable, I thought, but I was wrong. "On the Edge" may have a familiar formula, but it is an angry, original, unpredictable movie. And it's not about winning. It's about the reasons that athletes carry in their hearts after all strength and reason have fled.
The movie stars Bruce Dern, in one of his best performances, as Holman, a great runner who was banned from amateur athletics 20 years ago after he attempted to expose clandestine payoffs to athletes. He was no more dishonest than anyone else, but he rocked the boat, insisting that amateurism in athletics was the way the rich kept the poor from competing.
Now the runner has come back to prove something. He wants to run the Cielo-Sea Race, the second oldest in America, a grueling race over the mountains from Mill Valley to the Pacific. It's a point-to-point race, which means the runner can follow any path he chooses, as long as he passes a few checkpoints. Holman, running in the older-than-40 age group, figures he can win the race, especially if he can persuade his old coach to help him.