DO FILM CRITICS LACK HORSE SENSE?

CRITIC DOCTOR EXAMINES: Jon Popick (sick-boy.com), Emily Blunt (emilyblunt.com), Colin Covert (startribune.com), Kit Bowen (Hollywood.com), Sean Burns (philidelphiaweekly.com), Don R. Lewis (filmthreat.com), Peter Sobczynski (criticdoctor.com), Roger Ebert (suntimes.com), Robert Roten (lariat.org)

* * * * * (our of 5 stars)

Recently, Claudia Puig interviewed me for USA Today regarding Oscar Buzz. The piece declared “Seabiscuit” a big contender, but there are some critics who would like “Seabiscuit” to buzz off.

The story is based on Laura Hillenbrand’s best selling book about Seabiscuit, a mistreated race horse rehabilitated by three men to race again: Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), a successful auto-salesman, trainer Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) and jockey Red Pollard (Toby Maguire). They are all sad sacs in their own right, but the horse ends up rehabilitating them and inspires millions of Americans during the Great Depression.

Jon Popick (sick-boy.com) said, “Anyone unhappy with ‘Seabiscuit,’ especially after suffering through a summer full of colon-ized films long on title and short on originality, needs to have their head examined.”

Sounds like a job for Critic Doctor! Allow me, Jon.

Emily Blunt (emilyblunt.com) said, “Tobey Maguire lost bags of weight for the role to give it his all, and the performance, thanks to a director’s colossal faux pas, has taken one of the most touching ‘little-guy-makes-good’ scenarios in America’s history and made it a snorefest.”

I think Emily accidentally took a sleeping pill instead of Tylenol. Now she’s giving me a headache! The movie does take its time developing characters and giving us history lessons on the Great Depression, but that’s no reason to be depressed. It works! Director Gary Ross uses a fine-toothed comb to make sure every horsehair is in place. I agree this wasn’t Maguire’s greatest performance, but all three men together made this horse movie worth a ride around the track.

Colin Covert (startribune.com) said, “Gary Ross works with careful craftsmanship, giving us a rich and detailed portrait of a time, a sporting community and three wounded men who find a measure of personal redemption in their horse’s victories.”

I really liked Chris Cooper’s Smith – a mysterious, quiet character. In fact, it’s those silent moments in all three characters that lend an intriguing quality to this film. Kit Bowen (Hollywood.com) nailed it: “It’s the quiet moments that work best; when Smith is sitting, whittling outside Seabiscuit’s stall, letting the horse get some rest – with barely a trace of a smile on his lips as he ignores the swarm of reporters around the stable.”

Sean Burns (philidelphiaweekly.com) said, “Randy Newman’s embarrassing ersatz-Aaron Copland score runs amok across the entire picture, compromising any semblance of integrity earned by the actors.”

Burns is musically challenged. The score matched each scene perfectly and I especially liked Ross’ ability to meld together movie and documentary with the voice of David McCullough. It works because of the historical aspect of this story and it’s not overused – giving us a real feel of the Great Depression era. In fact, there are many times the movie will induce tears.

Don R. Lewis (filmthreat.com) said, “Is ‘Seabiscuit” sappy? Yeah, kind of. But who cares! It’s kind of cool when the big dude next to you is tearing up in a movie.”

Peter Sobczynski (criticdoctor.com) said none of the dialogue “sounds like anything that might have come out of the mouths of a genuine human being.” Sobczynski refers to one of the lines – “You don’t throw a whole life away because it is banged up a little” – and complains, “Even the jockeys quote Shakespeare.”

Granted, Peter, some jockeys are about the size of a chimp, but that doesn’t mean they have similar intelligence! Don’t you think they can read? Sobczynski also said, “The horse is indifferently filmed and never becomes a compelling character in the way that, say, the horse in ‘The Black Stallion.’”

Please forgive Ross for not hiring Francis the Talking Mule to engage Seabiscuit in some intellectual horse talk. For the love of God, Peter! Seabiscuit was portrayed like a real horse – with real characters that cared about him. And when he races, we literally ride with the Biscuit!

Roger Ebert (suntimes.com) got it right, “The movie doesn’t make the mistake of treating the horse like a human. It is a horse all the time, a horse with the ability to run very fast and an inability to lose, when guided by Smith’s strategy and Pollard’s firm love.”

Robert Roten (lariat.org) summed the movie up best: “This film is a thoroughbred. It is a winner.”

“Seabiscuit” fans might think some critics should buzz off, but we must all remember: You don’t throw a whole film critics’ life away because one review is banged up a little.

– CRITIC DOCTOR

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Posted on August 14, 2003 in Features by
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