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SEABISCUIT

When in the course of human events we sometimes become privileged to see a movie, one of profound social and spiritual significance, a film who’s very existence touches and moves us all, calling us to a higher plane of behavior and—dare I say it?—state of being.

Seabiscuit is not one of these movies.

Which isn’t to say I didn’t like it. I did, well, sort of. The movie was incredibly long (for the story it was actually telling), extremely obvious and sugar-coated, a bit trite, and absatively posolutely SHOULD NOT have been a Best Picture nominee.

But I liked it anyway.

Seabiscuit gives us the (somewhat) true story of a horse that raced during the heart of the Great Depression, the people connected to him and (supposedly) the nation he uplifted along the way. I didn’t live through the ‘30s, but I have read history, and at best the film glosses over the time period with cliché scenes and narration to explain away the true misery of the time.

But I liked it anyway.

The movie takes its sweet-ass time getting to the point. My mother joined us 42 minutes into the film, and I was able to accurately summarize up to that point with one sentence: “All of the characters—including the horse—have had a hard life up to this point.” The ending is way too drawn out; long after any shred of suspense has been removed.

But I liked it anyway.

The characters are too thinly drawn. Everyone seems to fall into the “hooker with the heart of gold” mentality, including an impossibly kind rich guy. Jeff Bridges as the owner and Chris Cooper as the trainer—two actors I really like—are somewhat wasted with not much to do. Tobey Maguire is, in a word: not right for the part (well, perhaps “miscast” would have been ‘in a word,’ but you get the point). I’m a fan of Tobey, but one gets the idea that director Gary Ross used him because of their Pleasantville connection and Maguire’s new star status after Spider-Man than any attribute Maguire brings to the part. I realize he’s not the biggest guy in the world, but to play a 115 pound jockey named Red you have to do a little more than fancy camera angles and dyeing his hair. About the only character who really gets into it is William H. Macy (ironically, the only character not in the book), who plays a half-crazy radio announcer.

The camera work is at times pretty amazing, especially when you’re set in the middle of a horse race, but the rest of the time somewhat lazy, in a good Pleasantville-sort of way. There’s never a feel of danger or peril or even much intensity, and the one romance is so perfunctory I wonder why they bothered.

The horse—the title character himself—never displayed the personality everyone (up to and including the narrator) allotted him. He just seemed like a horse. I don’t want to nit-pick, but I’ve seen such charismatic horses on T.V. like Secretariat and Alydar, and all I’m saying is if you’re going to get a horse to play the inspirational Seabiscuit, you might want to find one with some horse-onality.

Overall, this was a pretty pedestrian movie. It reminded me a little of Remember the Titans, in the sense that I knew what was coming and I was aware they were trying to play with my emotions. I’m almost offended Universal managed to get this a Best Picture nomination, when there are so many more deserving movies out there.

But I liked it anyway.

Suspension of Disbelief Index: 3 (out of 10). I think they want you to take it ultra-seriously, but that will take away a bit. Just enjoy it for what it is.

Genre Grade: Historical Adventure; C+.

Pantheon Percentile: 63.

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