Seabiscuit

Seabiscuit

***

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

What do a man on an assembly line in a New York car factory, the eldest son of a wealthy Canadian businessman and a cowboy in Montana have in common? The answer is a small horse that was trained to lose.

This is a true story, which makes it memorable. Writer/director Gary Ross applies a veneer to bring out the colour of rosewood. All the positive attributes of being an American are here, as if Seasbiscuit himself represents the spirit of California.

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There are no villains to speak of. Everyone is so nice. The nation may be suffering the Depression, but its heart is strong. This is a story of trust, faith, love and perseverence. What else is missing? The Lord God? He sits out on this one.

The man on the assembly line is Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), who travels to Los Angeles and makes a fortune with steam autos. The son of the Canadian businessman is Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire), who becomes a jockey on the West Coast after his father loses everything in the crash. The cowboy is Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), who saves a crippled stallion from being shot and lives like an itinerant horse whisperer on the outskirts of the city.

The film's formula is as neat as a well-pressed suit. Ross works backwards from that day in 1938, when Seabiscuit challenges the most successful thoroughbred on the Eastern Seaboard, and pulls these disparate strings together in the form of visual shorthand. Because of the time scales, the political upheaval of the Thirties and each individual life story, the characterisation is skin deep.

Marcela Howard (Elizabeth Banks), Charles's second wife, looks like an interesting person, but is given no opportunity to be anything but sweet and supportive. George Woolf (Gary Steven), the champion jockey and friend of Red's, is portrayed as a good guy who can't do enough to help and yet you know there's more to him than that.

Maguire and Cooper do well to add a little shade to the light. What comes through from both these actors is an understanding of how to communicate with animals.

Seabiscuit's story is an uplifting one. Ross sees it as an epic David & Goliath struggle, the pompous established East against the vulgar invigorating West. Moral homilies burst out, like snipe from the rushes. There is a message writ so large that no-one can avoid it and the message reads, "Never give up; there's always a second chance."

Red explains Seabiscuit's success: "It's not in his feet, it's in here," touching his chest. And that's what this is. A heartwrencher.

Reviewed on: 30 Oct 2003
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True story of the little horse with the big talent, set against the backdrop of the American Depression.
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Director: Gary Ross

Writer: Gary Ross, based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Gary Stevens, William H Macy, Eddie Jones

Year: 2003

Runtime: 141 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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