Sunday, February 15, 2004

Movie Review: Seabiscuit

United States, 2003
U.S. Release Date: 7/25/03
Running Time: 2:25
Rated: PG-13 (Mature themes, sexual situations)
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, Tobey Maguire, William H. Macy, Elizabeth Banks, Gary Stevens

Director: Gary Ross
Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Gary Ross, Jane Sindell
Screenplay: Gary Ross, based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand
Music: Randy Newman
Studio: Universal Pictures

Posted by Hello
Seabiscuit is a good, heartwarming, and emotional human interest story, but it has very little action to occupy the viewer’s attention. To quote an accompanying viewer, “It was kind of boring and just about a horse.” With a two hour and twenty-five minute running time, boredom can easily occur—that is, if a slow and informative picture does not appeal to you.

If Seabiscuit was not based on a true story, viewers would be displeased with the timing, arrangement, and anticlimactic ending. The film moves way too fast, because the filmmakers pack a lot of happenings into such a short amount of time. Also, this picture isn’t oriented too well for a fidgety audience—as the beginning is more like a slow PBS documentary, rather than a drama that gradually applies character development and a plot with intensity.

The film does a superb job with its depiction of The Great Depression, the correlation between the horse, jockey, and owner hitting rock bottom just as the stock market did, and with its showing of how when all of those involved with Seabiscuit began to display a winning spirit and happiness, so did the American people. However, factually this film is slightly inaccurate; it incorrectly depicts, or even omits in some cases, several of the horse’s historical happenings.

For example, the film shows Seabiscuit easily race to the lead in the final furlong of the last race from about twenty lengths off the pace— when in reality he actually advanced from second place to win, not from dead last. However, in Hollywood, things like this must be dramatized for effect leaving the audience better able to grasp the Rocky-esque work-hard-for-the-comeback feeling that is so inevitably desired in almost all sports films these days. Also, the keen eye can observe slight differences in Seabiscuit, for it isn’t one horse playing the racing legend, but, in fact, ten different horses—some having distinct coloration and size differences. But again, multiple animal actors are just another "necessary evil." In addition, the closing sequence is borderline irksome. It just ends without filling everyone in on any of the team member’s lives, including the horse.

If there are viewers who don’t know the factual story that takes place after the credits role, here goes...

By ending the film where the movie splendidly shows the triumph and success of the heavy underdogs in a very inspirational way, the filmmakers played it safe. If they would continue on with the characters’ life stories, the movie would take a negative turn, which would obviously not fit the movie’s uplifting Americana goals.

After all of the success depicted in the film, the jockey, Red Pollard (played by Tobey Maguire), went on to retire and never ride again resorting to a life of being both a valet-parking attendant and a boot cleaner, up until his death at the age of 71. And as for Seabiscuit, he died premature at the age of 14 (horses normally live well into their twenties and sometimes into their thirties) after eventually fading out of the horse-racing business altogether. It is sad how Hollywood can show only the positive portions of the story and leave out the true story downers all for dramatic effect.

Moreover, the director tries to burn the fact into every viewer’s mind that there are parallels between Pollard and Seabiscuit, and he does it to the point of overkill to establish the link between the two. For instance, he pans from jockey to horse, jockey to horse, jockey to horse, and jockey to horse, on two separate occasions to blatantly stress this fact. One, while Seabiscuit and Red are becoming fiery and fighting everyone around them, and the other when they both possess striking cast similarities. Gary Ross, the director, could have been a lot more subtle here instead of going back and forth and back and forth making sure that even the incompetent can make the connection between horse and man. After a frame or two, everyone “gets” the point.

Seabiscuit is nowhere near being one of 2003's best pictures, as many claimed it to be. However, in the same breath, it isn't altogether worthy of a whipping.

Superb acting from both Jeff Bridges (in a strikingly similar role he played in Tucker) as Charles Howard and the always amazing Chris Cooper as Tom Smith, keep this film alive all the way through the final turn. In addition, Tobey Maguire as Red Pollard (the unexpected jockey choice) and William H. Macy as Tick-Tock McGlaughlin (who practically steals every scene he is in) both provide for a duo of excellent portrayals. In addition, it is a pleasant surprise to find performances from real-life members of the current horse-racing community in Gary Stevens, Chris McCarron, and Frank Mirahinadi the caller voice of Louisana Downs.

In truth, there are three conditions to see Seabiscuit. One: if you are an avid horse-racing fan who sees all of the Triple Crown races (The Kentucky Derby, The Preakness, and The Belmont); Two: if you are interested in well-told human-interest stories; And three: if you are unfamiliar with the racing world, this in-depth horse-racing movie will opening your eyes to a somewhat dwindling sport.

Upon exiting the theater aftering viewing Seabiscuit, some were overly teary-eyed and some even wept with intense emotion. Seabiscuit is one of those motion-pictures that grab you by the heart; likewise, it shows you how a horse with gumption helped to guide America through troubling times and put it back on its feet. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004