clean, "Seabiscuit" offers welcome respite
from the dead heat of a season characterized
by sequels and updates and adaptations of
comics and video games and theme-park
rides. Rather, "Seabiscuit" is distinguished by
a character-driven tale nestled securely in a
richly storied time and place, accomplished
acting and heart-pounding cinematography.
In fact, character development plays such
a crucial role in this true story that 50 minutes
pass before the key players--entrepreneur
Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), trainer Tom
Smith (Chris Cooper), jockey Red Pollard
(Tobey Maguire) and the little horse that could,
Seabiscuit--even meet. On the one hand, this
firmly roots viewers in the era in which the
events take place--the promise of the Roaring
Twenties followed by the heartbreak of the
Depression--and the environment in which the
pony took the nation by storm. On the other,
while the questionably necessary narrator
expounds on the effect of the assembly line on
American culture ("It was the beginning and
the end of imagination all at the same time."),
the effect of Relief ("For the first time in a long
time, you were no longer alone.") and the
popularity of Tijuana during Prohibition ("In an
era when the world really needed a drink, you
couldn't get one."), one gets anxious to meet
the titular hero. And it's not until the three men
start working together that Bridges'
unflappable optimism, Cooper's humorless
intensity and Maguire's obstinate hot streak.
All three gentlemen are consummate in their
performances, as are William H. Macy as the
quirky, manic scene-stealing "Tick-Tock"
McGlaughlin and the delightful Elizabeth
Banks in an otherwise thankless wife role.
Meanwhile, the camerawork, gorgeous
throughout, is particularly thrilling in the pic's
the racing scenes. One feels inserted right
among the thundering hooves and jockeys,
privy to their oddly timed pleasantries,
good-natured goads and outright smack talk.
Also, the snorts, murmurs and neighs of
animals are so evocative one fairly smells
their hot, musty scent.
Ultimately, though, "Seabiscuit" pushes
too hard and goes lame in its attempts to link
the rider and horse. There's a moment in
which the trainer is frustrated by his colt's
orneriness, only to look across the yard and
find his future jockey in a tussle with a crop of
taunting stable boys. The correlation is
immediately obvious, yet writer/director Gary
Ross insists on panning back and forth
several times, depriving the audience of any
sense of discovery in the process. Starring Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Gary Stevens and William H. Macy. Directed and written by Gary Ross. Produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Gary Ross and Jane Sindell. A Universal release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for some sexual situations and violent sports-related images. Running time: 140 min.