Writer/director Gary Ross (Big, Dave, Pleasantville) may have another winner on his hands. Seabiscuit is thrilling audiences with its tale of an underdog (underhorse?) that became an inspiration to Americans in the late '30s. Rumor has it that the movie can make a grown man cry.

But this horse might not reach its stride until its second week, as word-of-mouth takes its course. Seabiscuit took fifth place at the box office over the weekend, behind such critically maligned stinkers as Bad Boys 2, Lara Croft, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, and the much-praised summer adventure film Pirates of the Caribbean. (Meanwhile, Pixar's animated hit Finding Nemo went on to become the biggest box-office cartoon of all time, passing The Lion King's total of $312.8 million.)

Seabiscuit stars Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski) as owner Charles Howard, Oscar-winner Chris Cooper (Adaptation) as talented trainer Tom Smith, and Spiderman's Tobey Maguire as Johnny Pollard, the not-so-little jockey that could.

All three actors earn applause from critics, many of whom predict that the film could have a shot at an Oscar nomination. Critics in the religious press are fairly impressed as well, posting only a few mild cautions and complaints.

Gerri Pare (Catholic News Service) says the film is "buoyed by nuanced performances," riveting, and handsomely shot. The story, she says, "serves as a metaphor for how the country was able to weather the Depression and survive. It's a very American story about the land of opportunity and second chances."

In spite of these strengths, Pare says the horse loses its natural grace at the end. "Distressingly, the film's climactic race relies more on swelling music than thrilling visuals."

J. Robert ...

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