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Heroes of the Zeroes: Seabiscuit

by on September 21, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

Rated PG-13

Yes, that’s a lush, peaceful Moby instrumental smack-dab in the middle of 2003’s “Seabiscuit,” a film predominantly set in the 1930s.

It’s a strong indicator of writer-director Gary Ross’s intent in his take on the true story of a tiny steed who became a horseracing titan: Keep the grandeur sweeping and the emotion swelling even if it means using music from 1999.

That was the only artificial sweetener Ross poured into the lush, autumnal “Seabiscuit.” Like “Cinderella Man,” it didn’t cheapen struggles of the Great Depression into simplified drama, and William H. Macy’s ah-cha-cha energy as radio announcer Tick Tock McLaughlin offered memorable levity.

Meanwhile, thunderous, dirt-kicking camera tricks threw viewers into the thick of the races, and Jeff Bridges, Tobey Maguire and Chris Cooper gave emotionally tethering performances.

Though a descendant of the majestic Man o’ War, Seabiscuit was an ornery runt reduced to a training partner for sleeker, larger horses.

But an eccentric trainer specializing in charity cases (Cooper), a stubborn, half-blind jockey (Maguire) and an auto magnate whose inventiveness begat personal tragedy (Bridges) brought out Seabiscuit’s best, and their rivalry with War Admiral fueled an East Coast-West Coast feud unrivaled until Biggie and Tupac.

“Seabiscuit’s” inspirational moments pack a wallop thanks to its sobering thesis: The future is intoxicating, but progress is a kind way of rendering someone else’s livelihood obsolete. Not only for Seabiscuit, but for every character, Ross probed the underdog principle’s heart: Success far outside the comfort zone is the sweetest of all.