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Movie Review: "Seabiscuit"

You'll cry when the horse wins.

No, I haven't ruined the whole movie for you, because why would they have made a movie like this unless the horse won?

You probably already know the story, or have heard of it recently, of the 1930's and 1940's era race horse Seabiscuit, who was rescued from almost certain destruction and lovingly trained into being a winning racehorse by several people who themselves had overcome adversity. The author of the bestselling book on which this film is based, Laura Hillenbrand, herself battled a debilitating disease for over 16 years, and the story she tells, and lovingly directed by Gary Ross (who also directed "Pleasantville" and "Mr. Baseball", among others), is a joy to watch.

The first half hour or so, which sets up the film, shows how the main characters (the owner, played by Jeff Bridges; the trainer, played by an almost-unrecognizable Chris Cooper ["Adaptation"], and most memorably, the jockey played by a red hair-dyed Tobey Maguire) come to meet during the Depression, which notably affected the lives of the latter two, especially the jockey, Red Pollard, who the movie portrays as a child first growing up in wealth and luxury, only to see his family lose it and be torn apart during the depths of the Depression. Ross uses very little dialogue during these scenes, which makes them even more powerful. In fact, the Bridges character, Charles Howard, doesn't say much during the entire film, using facial expressions, including a wry smile, to express himself.

Anyway, I won't spoil your enjoyment of this film by revealing much more, only to say that the way that all three of these characters reclaim their lives and triumph by their training of Seabiscuit; it's victories over and over for the underdog, and of course all of us love to root for people, and by extension, horses like that. There's the inevitable setback, but even that is overcome, and you'd shake your head in disbelief if you didn't know this was a true story.

I especially loved the way the film was shot -- it's rich in browns, reds and greens and captures perfectly the feel of the era. So many period pieces fail in this way, but Ross is nearly perfect. The only character in the film who really didn't belong was Elizabeth Banks as Charles Howard's wife -- she doesn't really do much besides provide a bit of eye candy. And I also was a bit puzzled when a redheaded teenager (Michael Angarano) suddenly turned into the Maguire character -- took me a minute or two to figure out this was the same person.

Even so, those are just a couple of quibbles. This is the movie of the summer, and ought to be high on the list of Oscar contenders, although sometimes big summer movies tend to be forgotten come nomination time.

AYRating: *** 1/2