Reviewed by: D.J. Williams (with comments by Edwin Hopkins)
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, William H. Macy | Directed by: Gary Ross | Produced by: Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Gary Ross, Jane Sindell | Written by: Gary Ross, Laura Hillenbrand, Charlie Mitchell | Distributor: Universal Pictures
Here’s what the distributor says about their film: This is the true story of a former bicycle repairman, Charles Howard (Bridges), who made his fortune introducing the automobile to the American West, and who owned a small, knobbly-kneed horse called Seabiscuit. Howard teamed up with a half-blind ex-boxing prize fighter, Red Pollard (Maguire), who became the horse’s jockey and a former “mustang breaker” Wild West performer called “The Lone Plainsman,” Tom Smith (Cooper), who became the horse’s trainer. As the United States struggled through the Great Depression, people around the country followed with rapt interest of the Seabiscuit story, leading to his win of the Horse of the Year honors in 1938.
In a summer of big bangs and booms, it’s nice to see a quiet film for a change. This summer, unlike last year, has been filled with blockbusters—big action-adventure movies big on effects but short on substance. That being said, some of the blockbusters have been exceptional (“Pirates of the Caribbean”, “X2,” etc.), but we’ve still been left wanting to see a film that’s quieter and deeper. That wait has now ended with the arrival of “Seabiscuit”, the true story of a depression-era racehorse that inspired the nation and the three men who took him to victory.
The film begins in 1910 with a montage of photographs from the period, with narration provided by PBS regular David McCullough. The sequence does a wonderful job of involving the audience in the world of the film, and also of introducing the main characters. We have Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), an automobile dealer and enthusiast who goes from rags to riches selling cars in California, Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), an old cowboy saddened by the slow departure of the open range, and Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire), a young man with a talent for jockeying who is given up (abandoned, he feels) by his parents at the age of sixteen to pursue a career. Then there’s Seabiscuit, a small, underachieving horse bred from greatness but a failure on the track.
Time passes forward to the beginning of the depression, and Howard is suddenly devastated by his young son’s tragic death and the subsequent departure of his wife. Thus, he heads off to a Mexican border town to forget (and perhaps drink away) his sorrows. There he meets Marcela (Elizabeth Banks), who will soon become his second wife. Looking for a new start, he purchases the feisty Seabiscuit and meets and hires Smith and Pollard to train and ride him.
The three underdogs and their misfit horse proceed to capture the heart of a nation devastated by the depression.
The acting is magnificent, with all three leads giving incredible performances and making us cheer for them all the more. Bridges (“K-PAX”, “Fearless”) is perfectly cast as the calm head holding the bunch together, while up-and-comer Banks (bit roles in Spider-Man, “Catch Me if You Can”) complements him terrifically.
Cooper (“October Sky”, “American Beauty”) never ceases to amaze with another great performance as a man who has lost any relevance to the world only to find it again, and Maguire (“Spider-Man”) delivers perhaps the movie’s strongest performance as the restless young jockey.
The additions of William H. Macy (“Jurassic Park III”, “Fargo”) as an over-the-top radio personality and real-life jockey Gary Stevens as the great jockey of the day round out the best ensemble cast of the year.
The racing scenes are thrilling and brilliantly shot. Director Gary Ross (“Pleasantville”) drops us right into the action, with hooves thundering and dirt flying all around. Yet as great as the races are, the strength of the film is clearly in its heartfelt true story. Some may criticize the movie as overly sentimental and cliché, but this is a story that certainly deserves sentimental treatment, and it’s done superbly. The themes of overcoming adversity and giving people a second chance weren’t cliché to the Americans experiencing the story in the 30’s, they were an inspirational lift to millions struggling just to get by.
In a culture where even Christians are becoming increasingly cynical, this is just the feel-good story we need. From troubled outset to beautifully emotional conclusion, “Seabiscuit” tears and inspires our hearts.
Famed critic Roger Ebert states that “In a summer of superheroes, my favorite hero is a horse.” I couldn’t agree more. As good as some of the summer’s action films have been, none of them can touch Seabiscuit’s drama and heart. Beautifully done on every front, “Seabiscuit” is not only a great film, but the best film so far this year.
The uplifting story is one that is sure to resound with audiences across the country, and the emotional journey of the film is one that everyone can relate to. Yes, I loved watching the comic book thrills of “X2” and “Hulk,” I loved watching Keanu’s Neo and Johnny Depp’s bizarre pirate. But none of them can touch the simple, heartfelt story of an overachieving little horse, the men who came from broken lives to race him, and the struggling nation they inspired. In a summer of spectacle, the long shot takes the prize.
Violence: Minor / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Mild
The most amazing line in this film is from Chris Cooper—“You don’t throw a whole life away simply because it’s banged up a little.” That goes for us humans, as well as animals. Jesus never gave up on us when we were banged up from our sinful condition. This true story teaches that no matter the trials and tribulations, you can, with God’s help, rise in triumph. No matter what the odds may be against you, you can succeed.
The redemption of three men trying to put their lives back together is not unlike our redemption through Christ Jesus. Plus, the importance of sharing that redemption experience with the world. “Seabiscuit” will make you laugh at the funny moments, cry when tragedy comes and cheer and scream each time this amazing colt crosses the finish line. It is a classic tale of how three men-and a horse—rose from the depths of despair, supported one another and, more importantly, learned from one another life’s values and priorities.