“Unbreakable: The Western States 100” Film Review

Unbreakable: The Western States 100 film poster

A majority of us ultrarunners and ultrarunning fans know the story of the 2010 Western States 100 (WS100): fast men Geoff Roes, Anton Krupicka, Kilian Jornet, and Hal Koerner ran like hell for 100 miles until Geoff emerged as the day’s victor. Unbreakable: The Western States 100 is a feature-length film by JB Benna that chronicles the race and folds in backstories about the runners and their lives.

I watched the film at its premier in San Francisco’s Sports Basement last Friday evening. In attendance was JB himself as well as Hal, Anton, Geoff, a passel of other runners with film cameos, and about 300 audience members. The film has solid entertainment value, as evidenced by the audience’s generally high spirits, its round of applause for each athlete’s finish during the film, and its standing O for JB.

I also got a good kick out of watching the film’s stars watch themselves. These dudes were there, a part of every mile of the race, but they seemed enthralled with the plot’s unfolding, too. They were also a little blushy-blushy, making it clear that us ultrarunners are not accustomed to seeing ourselves on the big screen.

The race’s story is told mostly through movement-based cinematography and a good dose of pre- and post-race interviews with the fab four. My favorite parts of the film are when the cameras rolled down the trail with the runners themselves. At times, the footage is raw and rough, like when Kilian’s pacer, Rickey Gates, captures the hottest part of the racing day on Cal Street with a GoPro camera and when JB catches runners slipping, sliding, and bumbling their way through the snowbound high country early on.

Cast and crew included pictured Anton Krupicka, Rickey Gates, Geoff Roes, and JB Benna. Photo: Bryon Powell

These parts of the film are also peephole views into some fairly intimate trail moments. The editing process saves us viewers the inevitable barfing, shi$ting, and peeing that takes place during a 100 miler, but the film does document the emotional and physical roller coaster that is a race of this distance. For example, Hal goes into the race with a bum ankle, and a limp forms in his running gait over the course of the day. It ain’t easy to see the poor guy’s body break down and force him to DNF.

Krupicka, Roes, and Koerner answered questions after the premier. Photo: Bryon Powell

JB does a wicked job in evolving deep backstories on the four stars by visiting their homes and documenting either their preparation for the 2010 WS100 or their world after the race. Viewers travel into Geoff’s Alaska life and see some of the old timers with whom he regularly shares the trails. We also meet Geoff’s girlfriend, Corle LaForce, and see her singing to her daughter, Elle. We watch an adorable moment when Elle bites into a too-hot omelet and no one but JB and the camera catches her reaction.

We venture, too, to the Rocky Mountain foothills with Anton and watch him run shirtless through brown grass in the dawn sun to see how he spends hours each day. We are window-ed into the home he shares with his girlfriend, Jocelyn Jenks, while they cook dinner. We also learn that Anton is less the Luddite than he’s often portrayed as when he chats on a cell phone.

The almost two-hour film is a journey, not only from the beginning to the end of a race, but it’s also a journey into what makes ultrarunners tick. The film’s titled “Unbreakable,” and it’s clear that Geoff remains the unbroken one when he crosses the line first at the 2010 WS100. The other film stars don’t win, but they don’t seem broken either. The film confirms that the 2010 WS100 is one race and one day of what are clearly four pretty sweet lives.

If there’s any message for this film’s audience—other than inspiring you to get out there and move it—it’s that ultrarunning doesn’t and shouldn’t break us. Rather, our sport helps build us to be good humans for each other and for this world. If you’re an ultrarunner, if you want to be an ultrarunner, or if you’re trying desperately to understand an ultrarunner, you have to see this film. No matter who you are, you’ll probably walk away from it feeling indestructible.

Call for Comments

  • Who’s excited to see Unbreakable?
  • If you’ve already seen it, what did you think? (Don’t go spoiling the ending. ;-) )

Resources

Meghan Hicks: is iRunFar.com's Managing Editor and the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running.' The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.

View Comments (50)

  • No Utah screening?

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    • Jn, I've got no scoop on a Zion showing, but folks are independently working on SLC and Park City screenings.

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      • Thanks.

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  • I am very excited to see this film! It's at the top of my Christmas list, (I'm such a running nerd/geek). On a side note, I look forward to the day when Anton and Goeff and others are back out on the course of the WS 100-hope Anton heals quickly, if he already hasn't. These guys, and many more, are really giving our sport the exposure that it needs, pure, fun and tough, yet not marred by drugs and $$$$ and a slew of public bad behavior reports.....

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  • I also look forward to seeing if Bryon Powell is going to compete next yr. Last yrs run and the journey there was an insperation!

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  • I'm excited to see Unbreakable. We're having a screening in Boise on December 14.

    Back in the 1980s, NBC/ABC used to cover WS, and included a lot scenes from the runner's personal lives. There isn't much TV coverage of endurance sports, so Unbreakable will be much appreciated by the running community.

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    • Where in Boise?

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  • I'm beyond stoked to see this film. I've been watching the trailer for months now, sharing amongst friends and family (both runners and non-runners), and find myself going back and watching it anytime I need a bit of motivation to get out and run.

    Great review also! Love this "If there’s any message for this film’s audience—other than inspiring you to get out there and move it—it’s that ultrarunning doesn’t and shouldn't break us. Rather, our sport helps build us to be good humans for each other and for this world."

    @RunsOnBeer

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  • I can't wait to see this movie. I'm sure it's full of inspiration.

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  • I'm going to the CO Springs screening tonight. Very excited!

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  • How can we bring it to our town? Boise!

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  • I was there Friday night and thought that the film was great and very much worth buying. You describe the film and the feel of the night very well. As a longtime ultra runner I thought the feel of the night also a example of what I love about the sport. Our sport continues to grow and yet in the end we all love to get together eat some pasta and cheer each other on. It was a great night! Please support JB and buy the movie.

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  • After seeing the movie in San Francisco, I have to admit I walked away tingling with excitement for big summer 100 milers. JB did a great job shaping the individual characters and sharing their strengths and weaknesses with the audience. They're incredibly talented individuals with storied pasts, but the movie really shows their human flaws and superhuman achievements on raceday that give inspiration for all runners regardless of experience or talent.

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  • There are some quotes in that video where I really had to question whether it was a joke or not.

    "I noticed myself wanting to run with people more"

    "somethin inside his body that the average bear doesn't have"

    "It's on..."

    Hopefully the movie is done slightly better then that trailer. Even so, I enjoyed it :)

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  • Awesome, can't wait to view this. Any idea how much the download version well be, if there's more on the DVD than the download-extras-and weather this well be available in hd: trailers and in stunning hd but if it's on a DVD the quality won't be close to the youtube trailers, it'll be 480 tops, where's bluray/720/1080 would rock!

    Looking to get a copy as soon a download is available in the uk :)

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  • Can't wait to see the movie! Any screenings in the Washington, DC area?! Thanks for the review, Bryon.

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  • Can someone please respond to the request of where/when this film can be seen in Boise? I don't want to miss it!

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  • I had a private showing to a small group of friends and SLUGS (St Louis Ultra Runners)in my home theater last Friday night. It thought it was awesome. Don't tell JB but I actually watched it a second time with my wife before deleting it. People should really check on this option if they have someone in their area with a home theater setup a 15 person license is just $150.

    Frank

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  • And I thought 'What can I do?' I asked myself that question. And the answer came to mind: I can still take one more step. And so at that point I decided to take one more step until I could no longer take one more step. And today we would say that is suicidal, you know. We tell people not to think that way since there is always another day to come back. Well, there isn't always another day, because a lot of times life gives us one opportunity at something.

    Gordy Ainsleigh in the movie about overcoming his low point when running the inaugural 100 mile Western States Endurance Run in 1974, thereby creating the modern sport of ultradistance trail running.

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  • I think the excitement I feel about seeing this film comes from the hunch that I had during all those long runs that many other ultrarunners were out there, alone for long periods of time and yet in solidarity with a larger community. The film humanizes the other guys out there on the trails. I'm glad to hear that it does not attempt to turn them into flawless humans, even if they are unbreakable.

    Thanks for highlighting the screenings. Very cool that there will be one in southcentral Pennsylvania.

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  • Somebody needs to bring this to Miami. There aren't many mountains here, but there are many passionate runners who'd love to watch this.

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  • Come on...where's the iTunes offering?

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  • We (Running Warehouse in San Luis Obispo) are hosting a showing of the movie next Friday. Our 50 person limit sold out in one week. Also already ordered my private copy of the movie to view when needed. I did the race in 2010 so it will be great to watch all the action I missed while being many hours behind. WS100 lottery this weekend and movie next week. Guess it is time to get motivated and gear up for the 2012 season.

    Erik

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