Making a genuinely stirring, unabashedly all-American feel-good movie -- the kind that makes you want to stand up and cheer -- has to be one of the most difficult, precision tasks in modern cinema. But writer-director Gary Ross beautifully sidesteps contemporary cynicism in "Seabiscuit," a film that invokes the warm, gratifying, can-do spirit of the uplifting films that once helped people forget the Great Depression two hours at a time.

The miracle success story of a too-small steed and his too-large jockey who together came to dominate and popularize horse racing in the late 1930s, the film is a metaphor for the underdog hope of the era that it captures so transportingly.

Adapted by Ross ("Pleasantville") from the acclaimed book by Laura Hillenbrand, the picture gets off to a unconventional start with a rambling 20-minute prologue -- narrated by David McCullough, the compassionate voice of Ken Burns' PBS documentaries -- that gallops through both general history (the Model T Ford, the stock market crash, prohibition) and detailed backstory (early owners deemed Seabiscuit too diminutive, lazy and willful to be a champion) while trying to look like it's trotting along at a laid-back canter.

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