on July 25, 2003 by Annlee Ellingson
Like a summer shower that washes the city

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.

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