I'm always on the lookout for movies that are as good as or better than the book they are based on. It doesn't happen often, the only one I can think of offhand is L.A. Confidential. That novel was confusing, too long, and had a secondary plot that was unnecessary. This movie was not nearly as good as the book.
I had really high hopes for this one. I at least figured it would be the best movie of the summer, but that title is still held by Pirates of the Caribbean. I don't mean to overstate my case, this was a good flick and I enjoyed watching it, but it could have been much better.
First, it was way to long and slow. The beginning should have been tightened up a lot, and while the David McCullough voiceovers were informative, they really weren't necessary. Second, the score was both weepy, unmoving, and indistinct all at the same time, which is quite a trick. Finally, and definitely least importantly, it's always nice to have some where-are-they-now text before the credits after a movie based on real characters.
That said, the movie did some things right. Nice choice for all the actors. I've always enjoyed Chris Cooper and Tobey Maguire, and Jeff Bridges is usually pretty good. All the emotional highs and lows were hit, pretty much right on. Laughs were put in the right places, right in the middle of the tears. Creating the composite radio journalist for Bill Macy was a stroke of comedy relief genius. And, finally, the horse race scenes were shot with great thought to tension and action and were better than most car chases for getting your heart pounding.
Perhaps I would have enjoyed this movie a lot more if I hadn't known what was going to happen, but plenty of movies are based on stories that are much better known (Apollo 13 is the best example) yet manage to sustain belief and suspense. It would have been nice if this movie had managed to do that.