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Review by Brad Green:
The problem for those who speculate on horse racing is that few thoroughbreds perform to their best under all conditions. When it comes to selecting soundtrack composers, filmmakers can probably empathise. Race horses can go like champions on turf and duffers on dirt, sprout wings in spacious straights and lose legs on tight circuits; and composers with Oscar-winning form on action flicks can strike all the wrong chords when it comes to intimate drama, find all the right rhythms for sci-fi adventure and produce music that’s totally out of step for comedy romance. 

But commissioning Randy Newman is never a gamble. Shifting easily from the vibrant scores for animation that have highlighted his recent work, he delivers here a wonderfully restrained lyricism that captures the nostalgia of a true story without drowning it in faux melodrama. 

Australian audiences, of all those outside the United States, can probably relate best to the story of Seabiscuit. If the Australian Of The Year had been instituted during the Depression, Phar Lap would have been odds on for the honour. We love our sporting champions like no others, particularly when they have hearts big enough to pump the spirit back into an age of desperation. 

Newman wisely leaves the thunder to the horse hooves, and relies on pensive woodwind and the fragile eloquence of acoustic piano and guitar to evoke an atmosphere that makes victories more meaningful. It is an enormously nuanced score with little reliance on repetition. When some winning post glory is necessitated Newman strikes up a playful, carnival brass section rather than bombastic triumphalism. Further colour is added via a few jaunty interludes of bluegrass and a Mariachi number (the only track not composed by Newman). 

Like Phar Lap, Seabiscuit became a folk hero because he personified the most romantic notion of the Sport of Kings: that the Kings were once Battlers. Newman maintains a tight reign throughout, delivering many gorgeously melodic moments without ever letting them gallop away. There is no need to impose on a true story that is already augmented by a naturally evolving mythology, and this gentle but magnificent soundtrack captures the inherent magic of real world legends. 

Published February 19, 2004

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TITLE: Seabiscuit
ID: 986 0861
SCORE: Randy Newman

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