PHAR LAP (Australia, 1983) ***
The boy-horse-racing formula is sure-fire, but here it is buttressed here by truth and uncontaminated by goo or overstatement. Familiar elements of training, suspense, and thrilling victories are enhanced by good, offbeat touches: a main trainer who is not lovable or colorful; stuffy, uppercrust Anglos at the Jockey Club who discriminate against a proletarian horse and its American-Jewish owner (Ron Leibman, very good) and who handicap Phar Lap increasingly, unfairly, and cruelly.
Phar Lap was the second feature by director Simon Wincer, who until then had worked in TV. His first movie, Snapshot, seems to be as obscure as they come. But Phar Lap turned out to be a success. Wincer had the good sense (or luck) to use as his cinematographer the very talented Russell Boyd whose record already included such top films as Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Last Wave, Gallipoli, The Year of Living Dangerously, Tender Mercies.
Depression-era sets, very good but never gratuitously flashy camerawork, stunning races, interesting biped-to-quadruped relations , all add up to a gratifying film. Ten minutes were cut from the American print for the sake of better suspense and clarity
After this movie, Simon Wincer did good work: the war picture The Lighthorsemen
(Australia); Quigley Down Under (suspense with Tom Selleck in Australia);
the TV series Lonesome Dove and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles,
the popular kidpic Free Willy and the entertaining Operation Dumbo Drop
(reviewed in E. Jahiel's site). Some other features were weak-to-fair.