He says: "Seabiscuit’ definitely not subtle
It’s not a lack of heart that makes “Seabiscuit” falters on the home stretch, but pluck and charisma can get you only so far.
That’s not such a bad failing for a movie – unless you consider how frequently and how hard director Gary Ross wallops the audience with his message that determination can redeem the most unlikely of underdogs. If the medium is the message and the message is that all you need is grit and elbow grease, there’s something about this well-made movie about a horse with heart that still left me feeling a little unsatisfied.
That might sound like a pretty rough appraisal of a movie that merits three stars out of five in my mind, so I should say something here about the many things “Seabiscuit” does very well. The cast, especially Tobey Maguire and Chris Cooper, seem able to carry it on charisma alone. “Seabiscuit” is beautiful to look at, and it accomplishes something I think has been impossible for film and television: It makes horse racing look like a fast, dangerous adrenaline buzz – more Indy 500 than Kentucky Derby.
Even what I found to be the worst attribute of “Seabiscuit” grew out of good intentions, I think. In the face of recession, Ross turned to Laura Hillenbrand’s Great Depression chronicle “Seabiscuit” for an inspirational tale of the little horse who could. But as anyone who saw “Pleasantville” might be able to tell you, subtlety isn’t Ross’s strong suit. In “Seabiscuit,” he works the message as gracefully as a jackhammer. Sure, the message stays with you after you alight from thetheater into the dark night and an uncertain economy. But that might be just because the script drives home an inspirational quote approximately every 15 seconds, so at least one is bound to lodge itself in your frontal lobe: “You don’t throw a whole life away just ’cause it’s banged up a little,” Cooper says as trainer Tom Smith; “It’s better to break a man’s leg than his heart,” echoes jockey George Woolf; “I was crippled for the rest of my life,” Maguire says as jockey Red Pollard. “I got better. He made me better.”
Not exactly – pardon the expression – fresh horses. There’s really so much good about “Seabiscuit” that no, you don’t throw away a movie just because it’s got a few flaws. But if you’re trying to find a wagon to hitch your star to, there’s better inspiration out there.
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