In Depression America, a broken spirited jockey, Johnny ‘Red’ Pollard (Tobey Maguire), a busted motor vehicle millionaire Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), and horse-loving cowboy Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) whose world is disappearing somehow collide at the right moment to become involved in the life of Seabiscuit, a shortish, untrained and unlikely racing contender, who has one quality that catches Smith’s eye: he has fight in him. The three men take on the challenge of grooming the horse for racing and training him to run in a straight line. Seabiscuit is fast, but he needs a lot of psychology. The dreams of his three supporters ride with Seabiscuit as he slowly emerges, a racing machine like no other. This not only heartens his connections, but through the new medium of radio, it gives heart to millions across a depressed land. But an accident leaves Red half crippled on the eve of a vital race.
Review by Louise Keller:
An exhilarating story of overcoming adversity against the odds, Seabiscuit tells the heartwarming story of three men brought together by a horse. Based on a true story and adapted from a book by Laura Hillenbrand, this is the tale about a horse that is too small, a jockey who is too big, a trainer who is too old, and the owner who chooses not to notice. It’s about the little guy who doesn’t know he’s little. It’s a beautifully crafted film, filled with richness and vibrancy, with a story that pierces the heart. Writer/ director/ producer Gary Ross (Pleasantville) is a natural storyteller, lovingly bringing together the story’s three strands seamlessly and taking us on a satisfying journey set in the turbulent times of the stock market crash, when new beginnings and challenges were the order of the day.
Using the language of cinema, important plot points are told through images and a lyrical score, while an intelligent script allows all the characters to make perfect sense. ‘You don’t throw a whole life away cause he’s banged up a little,’ we hear, as we embark on a satisfying journey in which a horse uses his heart, and not his legs to win. Jeff Bridges is solid as the man who has lost everything and is trying to forget, Chris Cooper enigmatic as the man who loves horses and fixes them ‘because he can’, and Tobey Maguire outstanding as the angry young man with a gift.
The moment when the destiny of horse and boy is determined comes when trainer Tom Cooper sees a parallel with Seabiscuit struggling ferociously with his handler, and Red fighting furiously with some youths. We are in the stands and on the track, hearts in our mouths as Seabiscuit shows what he is made of. Elizabeth Banks has a lovely presence as Charles’ wife and William H. Macy gives a scene stealing turn as radio reporter ‘Tick-Tock’ McGlaughlin, who accentuates every statement by comical sound effects with vibes, shoes and anything else at hand. This is a story where the horse gives the autographs, the jockey quotes Shakespeare to the media and the owner calms his nerves by keeping a simple child’s puzzle in his pocket.
Tension builds as the stake for each race becomes higher, and by the time we reach the climatic scenes, I felt as though I had raced an entire race myself. My tears were very real – it’s easy to get swept away by the courage of these engaging characters that refuse to give up, even when life is beating them by a nose. Inspiring to the end, Seabiscuit is a big-impact film, which deserves a place in the winners’ circle.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Although we are finally won over by the combination of success over adversary and David slaying Goliath, Seabiscuit is a long haul with a few cliches and some script anomalies. These flaws are swamped by not one but two thriller races, and by the performances of the three central characters. And there is a goofy laugh with William H. Macy’s Tick Tock McGlaughlin, the radio jock with a full suite of sound effects in his cosy broadcast room trackside and a line in patter to make your ear drop. But to start at the beginning, where David McCullogh narrates a short history lesson (weeell, not short enough) about the 1920s and the depression, complete with newsreels of the hungry. This is to set up the backdrop, and while the filmmakers argue that it’s essential (it certainly is for a novel), I would argue it could have been done much more economically.
The result plays like two movies shunted together, like trains coupled together at a platform. Seabiscuit appears 50 minutes into the film, which I think is a tad late. But at least we know all about Charles Howard! (One script anomaly that pops up concerns the early scene of Howard sending his young son off in a truck the kid learnt to drive on their large property. Howard then sets off for San Francisco “till Wednesday” but when the phone rings shortly after [with bad news] Howard is there to pick it up.) The sense of coupling scenes together, like jumping on stones across a river, never quite leaves the film, giving it an episodic feel, right up until the final quarter. But thanks to fine work by Maguire, Bridges and Cooper, we ride these bumps and are caught up in the story all the same. Credit, too, to the horses, who provide much of the film’s heart.
There’s a poignant line that crops up twice in the film, once in reference to a horse, once to a man: “You don’t throw a while life away just ‘cause it’s banged up a little.” My cheating keyboard would like to paraphrase it: “You don’t throw a whole movie away just ‘cause it’s banged up a little.”
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CAST: Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, William H. Macy, David McCullough, Michael Ensign, James Keane, Valerie
PRODUCER: Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Gary Ross, Jane Sindell
DIRECTOR: Gary Ross
SCRIPT: Gary Ross (book by Laura Hillenbrand)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: John Schwartzman
EDITOR: William Goldenberg
MUSIC: Randy Newman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jeannine Claudia Oppewall
RUNNING TIME: 129 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: BVI
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 13, 2003