Volume 16, Number 10 | Aug. 5–Aug. 11, 2003
I have previously characterized films as awful, and I may have even referred to one as the worst I have ever seen. All of them pale in comparison with this turkey which is the worst of the worst. I was taken in by The Times film reviewer, Elvis Mitchell, who described this flick as being “never less than fascinating.” Baloney. It is pure crap.
Done in Dogme-style, it is poorly lighted, rarely audible, and on occasion, the camera work is so bad the figures are barely visible on the screen. At times the screen is quartered, and I felt as though I were watching four different television channels at once. It is difficult to understand what is going on and appears to have no plot. Basically, it consists of two stories: One is about a crew creating a new version of “The Duchess of Malfi,” written, we are told, by a contemporary of Shakespeare, and the second is a documentary based on the making of the film.
Charlee Boux (Selma Hayek) is the head of the documentary crew. Brilliant as she was in her role as “Frieda,” her performance in this film is ridiculous. The director of the film, Rhys Ifans (Trent Stoken), pursued by the documentary crew, exhibits full frontal nudity on one occasion as he lies in a coma after being shot. The film’s producer, Jonathan Danderfine (David Schwimmer), should keep his “Friends” job, adding nothing to his credits or this flick. I’ll refrain from mentioning anyone else who appears in this film so as to protect their careers.
The movie contains references to cannibalism, introduced by Omar Jonsson (John Malkovich), who may be the first meal to be served. At one point, a character refers to the documentary being made as “a piece of [crap].” If she had referred to both film and documentary with the same honesty, I would have proposed that she receive an Oscar. Trust me. Run for the hills if someone suggests seeing this abomination.
This is a terrific, old-fashioned type film with a great storyline and fine acting by all, including the horse. The script is based on the best-selling novel by Laura Hillenbrand and purports to be a true rendering of Seabiscuit’s career and the people involved with the horse. It takes place in the 1930s and contains moving scenes of the Depression and soup kitchens and even a newsreel showing FDR.
Tobey Maguire, who plays the role of the jockey Red Pollard, is near unrecognizable in hair style and facial looks, but his distinctive voice immediately gives him away. Jeff Bridges plays the role of Seabiscuit’s owner, Charles Howard, and he creates, as he always does, a totally believable character. Chris Cooper perfectly portrays the understated trainer, Tom Smith. Charles’s second wife, Marcela, is played by Elizabeth Banks, and there is definite chemistry between the two of them.
The film opens very slowly with scenes setting up why Charles, who loses his young son in an auto accident, can no longer face life. His wife, also bereft by the loss of their son, leaves him. Soon Charles, seeking a new outlet, becomes involved in horse racing. Independently we witness the deterioration of Red’s life when his parents abandon him. From then on we are off to the races.
I occasionally thought there would be the danger of soap opera and “The Perils of Pauline,” but the consummate acting pulls it all off. People in the audience were cheering during the final horse race, and when the lights went up, I, too, stood and applauded with the crowd.
– Ed Koch