Directed by Gary Ross, starring Tobey Maguire, Jeff Brigdes, Chris Cooper, William H Macy, Elizabeth Banks and Gary Stevens.

It's a film that, like its titular hero, seems to have come from nowhere to take over $100m and has been hailed as both a rallying call for traditional American values and a beacon of hope in such troubled times. That such an average film can take on such importance suggests that there hasn't been too much competition this year or that times are very troubled indeed. Make no mistake, this is a nice movie, looks great and will make you smile. But once you put your everyday face back on, it's hard to fight the idea that for the talent assembled, 'Seabiscuit' should've been much more.

Adapted from Laura Hillenbrand's best-seller, it tells the true story of how a no-hoper horse got into winning ways, lifted a nation bogged down in the Depression and changed the lives of three very different men. The horse's owner, Charles Howard (Bridges), had made his fortune in cars, but suffered personal tragedy with the loss of his young son. His jockey, Red Pollard, (Maguire) was given up by his family when hard times hit and then took more beatings as an amateur boxer, leaving him half blind. And Seabiscuit's trainer, Tom Smith (Cooper), was a man in touch with nature but drifting aimlessly through a lost America, hopping freight cars and sleeping rough.

For Ross - who also wrote the script - the three are not so much individuals as American icons: the self-made man, the slugger who gets back up and the keeper of that frontier spirit. And that approach is what lets him down because 'Seabiscuit' has plenty of drama, but it comes at the expense of character. You don't feel you learn enough about the men and the fact that you are as wise to their personalities a half-hour in as you are nearly two hours later, is a failing that no amount of horse racing and against the odds finishes can fix. If further proof is needed, the most memorable person in the whole film turns out to be William H Macy who, as showman commentator Tick Tock McGlaughlin, has screen time that just makes double figures.

Racing fans will enjoy seeing a legend made celluloid and some will get wistful and say Ross has made a film of the type that they just don't make enough of any more. That's true, but so is the fact that they made them better in the past.

Harry Guerin