Seabiscuit Gary Ross

Seabiscuit Gary Ross
It's a story no major film studio should screw up. Take an historic subject that's fallen from public consciousness. (In American newspapers in 1938, racehorse Seabiscuit was the most written about topic, measured by column inches; then-President FDR was second, Hitler was third.) Stock the production with acclaimed but inexpensive actors (Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper) or up-and-comers anxious for legitimate credibility (Spider-Man Tobey Maguire). Hire the best cinematographers, production designers and historical specialists and a competent director and get the hell out of the way. This story takes care of itself: Seabiscuit the neglected horse gets rescued by a rich man (Bridges) in mourning, who hires a lost cowboy (Cooper) and a beat-up jockey (Maguire) and goes on to become the most successful racehorse of its time, at the height of American horseracing popularity. That it's all true — horse and jockey suffered broken legs before making an unbelievable comeback — would ring false if Muhammed Ali hadn't unveiled a similar trick late in his career. Seabiscuit is a film that's skewered with the hook of a big studio looking to dangle some bait in front of Oscar — it looks beautiful, it's carefully constructed as "serious drama" and the racing sequences are truly stunning to behold. Yet it wears its self-serious perspective like a yoke on its neck, and repeat viewings especially reveal the deadly slow pace of its first hour. Director Gary Ross's obsession with tying Seabiscuit's place in history to the hopes of a depression-struck nation is too often heavy-handed, especially when the film runs a chunk past the two-hour mark. But the rousing drama of the film's second half almost makes up for the clunky faux Ken Burns-isms of its ponderous beginnings. The DVD does the film up right, with historical looks at the racehorse, a solid making-of, an interesting dissection of a scene from Ross, and a look at Jeff Bridges's amateur on-set photography. (He's quite talented.) Ross also takes a seat for a full-length commentary with his friend Steven Soderbergh along for the ride. (Dreamworks/Universal)