*/**** Image A+ Sound A Extras B-
starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, Tobey Maguire, Elizabeth Banks
screenplay by Gary Ross, based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand
directed by Gary Ross
by Walter Chaw In a summer redolent with superhero melodramas, Seabiscuit, a Golden Age bodice-twister about a plucky boy and his intrepid horse populated with a cast of good-looking cut-outs to fill out the good-looking backgrounds, isn't even the most interesting. All of it feels a little airless--a carefully-manipulated arrangement composed entirely of meticulously-preserved flowers that give the illusion of vitality when in truth, they're taken out of time and well past their prime. Seabiscuit could have been made in the 1940s--and it was, really, as My Friend Flicka: two untamed spirits tamed by one another while various authority figures wisely cheer them on. Like that film, writer-director Gary Ross's adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand's excellent non-fiction washes out as something creepily nostalgic, weightless, and unintentionally disturbing. There's something poetic about a scene in the middle of Seabiscuit when Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges, always good) leaves in the middle of a bloody bullfight when taken with a line later in the film when plucky boy jockey Red (Tobey Maguire) warns his replacement not to beat Seabiscuit on his left flank because "that's where he was beaten when he was young." Beat him on the right side, is the implication, and decades of conditioning from other films (particularly Disney's anthropomorphic films) have made driving animals to the brink of exhaustion and death at the end of whip a little hard to take with a blithe indifference.