Ruffian (2007, True Story and Drama)

Ruffian, set in 1975 and based on the true story of the legendary racing filly who was undefeated until suffering a fatal breakdown in a match race at Belmont Park against a champion colt called Foolish Pleasure (the event caught national attention and was hailed as a historical follow-up to tennis' "battle of the sexes" — Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs a couple of years before). There is an excellent book about Ruffian called Burning From the Start (it's by Jane Schwartz, and is better even than Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit bio) … but unfortunately, this movie isn't based on that.

It's based on what I am sure is a fine tome (I haven't read it) called A Racetrack Romance by Bill Nack, a sportswriter who was actually there throughout Ruffian's brief but brilliant career. The film, done memoir-style complete with voiceovers from Nack (played convincingly by Frank Whaley), focuses mostly on the relationship between the black-bay filly and her no-nonsense trainer, excellently portrayed by Sam Shepard.

While there are some missteps in the equine casting (several different horses were used, and it's obvious), the look and feel of the movie is top-notch. The cinematography by David Franco is very cinematic and dramatic, adding quite a lot to what could be otherwise inert sequences in the day-to-day lives of the filly and those in her orbit. The movie has a sad ending of course, but it's handled with poise and dignity.

 


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