In telling this remarkable true story, director Jean-Marc Vallee (The Young Victoria) and his gifted cast keep the characters and events so grounded that we can't help but get caught up in their story. The film never asks for our sympathy, but it earns it over and over again as it explores a disgraceful period in American history when businesses and the government essentially condemned millions to death by withholding proper treatment for HIV and Aids.
It begins in 1985, when homophobic womaniser Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) is told that he has just a month to live. Refusing to believe that he has the same disease that has just killed Rock Hudson, he ignores his doctors (Garner and O'Hare) to find his own supply of AZT, which makes him even more ill. So he heads to Mexico to find a range of treatment the US government has refused to approve, and he imports them himself, creating a members' club to subvert the law. This requires that he set his deep-seated prejudice aside so he can work with the transgendered Rayon (Leto). But a government lawyer (O'Neill) is determined to shut him down.
Yes, it's deeply infuriating to watch the American system try so hard to stop Woodruff from saving lives. Government officials continually outlaw his effective treatments so they can pawn off the toxic, over-priced AZT instead. So Woodruff travels the world in search of new medicine, and his business of course takes off. Vallee cleverly cuts through the 1980s period details to reveal Woodruff's earthy tenacity and an overpowering sense of humanity.
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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.
Continue reading: Seabiscuit Review