Set in the 1930s, this true story--about a down-and-out racehorse named
Seabiscuit pulled out of obscurity by three men and turned into a national
hero--will shamelessly, but successfully, tug at your heartstrings.
inspirational real-life story of Seabiscuit is a history lesson worth
being taught. During the height of the Depression, this too-small, unruly,
glue factory-bound racehorse triumphed over great odds to win races--and
the heart of a nation. He eventually beat the Triple Crown winner of the
day, War Admiral, in a 1938 match race heard by millions nationwide on the
radio. Yet, in addition to the horse itself, Seabiscuit revolves
around the three men who groom, train and care for the animal--three men
who are each wounded souls in their own right. There's owner Charles
Howard (Jeff Bridges), a born salesman with a kind heart who makes a
fortune selling Buicks in Northern Calif. but it means nothing after he
loses his son in a tragic accident; there's trainer Tom Smith (Chris
Cooper), an obsolete cowboy whose world of wide, open plains is slowly
vanishing under barbed wire, train tracks and roads; and jockey John "Red"
Pollard (Tobey Maguire), a young man who is torn from his impoverished
family at the beginning of the Depression and lives a hard life as a
part-time jockey, part-time boxer. They're all beaten, but somehow, when
the four come together--it's magic. Even though the film suffers from the
you-know-how-this-is-going-to-turn-out syndrome, as well as venturing a
bit much into the melodramatic, Seabiscuit still lifts your spirit
and shows how despite a time of great suffering, the underdogs gave hope
that the American Dream could be possible again.
The talented trio handles their tasks admirably. Bridges harkens back
to his performance as the idealistic car inventor Preston Tucker in the
1988 film Tucker; Howard, like Tucker, is a dreamer, successful in
his endeavors, great at public relations but perhaps a little too trusting
of others. Bridges fits comfortably into this role but digs deeper this
time, showing Howard's pain--and his ultimate salvation in his winning
horse. Maguire is also well suited as the lanky Red, but the poor guy sure
takes a beating playing the role. It's gut-wrenching watching the
downtrodden Red starve himself so he can still be considered for jockey
jobs or getting the snot kicked out of him in a boxing match, which
ultimately results in him losing sight in one eye. Then, to top it off,
Red shatters his leg in a riding accident weeks away from the big race
against War Admiral. It's tough being Red, but Maguire doesn't shy away.
As for Cooper, he shines once again. After winning an Oscar for his turn
in Adaptation, the underrated actor shows how good he really is by
giving another exquisite performance as the horse whisperer-like trainer.
It's the quiet moments that work best; when Smith is sitting, whittling
outside Seabiscuit's stall, letting the horse get some rest--with barely a
trace of a smile on his lips as he ignores the swarm of reporters around
the stable. And in wonderful moments of hilarity, William H. Macy gives a
great performance as "Tick-Tock" McGlaughlin, a conglomerate of those
colorful radio announcers who gave the craving public blow-by-blow
accounts of the horse races during the Depression. Macy gets out-loud
laughs every time he shows up.
Seabiscuit is a labor of love--a love for anything to do with
horses and horse racing, which may not necessarily be exciting to all,
although the movie's message will speak to everyone. Based on Lauren
Hillenbrand's best-selling novel of the same name, writer/director Gary
Ross (Pleasantville) plunges headlong into the story of this
inspirational horse, carefully setting up the history surrounding his rise
to stardom. The cinematography is extraordinary. Ross expertly blends
archive footage within in the movie, where at times you feel like you are
watching another well-made documentary á la Ken Burns. One particular
moment where this works best is when, at the start of the race between War
Admiral and Seabiscuit, Ross switches to archive images of real folk
listening to the race on the radio, as you hear the real-life commentators
giving the details. Of course, showing the final stretch of the race is
the payoff and though you know who is going to win, you're on the edge of
your seat anyway. It's after this, however, where the film begins to lose
its momentum and lapses into clichéd sap. Seabiscuit hurts his leg, too,
and is deemed never to race again. He convalesces with Red on Howard's
farm until they both miraculously heal well enough to race one more time.
It's almost too much to believe, even though it is still a true story.
Seriously, how much can one man and his horse take?
Although you may have to sit through some melodramatic moments and you
know ultimately how Seabiscuit turns out, don't worry. Sit back,
learn a little history and enjoy a great ride.