July 2003

Reviewed by Wilson Morales

Distributor: Universal Pictures
Director: Gary Ross
Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Gary Ross, Jane Sindell
Screenplay: Gary Ross, based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand
Cinematography: John Schwatzman
Composer: Randy Newman
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, William H. Macy, and Gary Stevens

At a time when summer films are meant to be mindless and appeal to lots of folks for a potential blockbuster, some may wonder where are the big films that could be Oscar nominated. Thank God for the independent and foreign films, for they at least offer substance although they are not being played at the multiplexes and you really have to go some distance to find them. But as far as studio films, we haven’t really seen one yet. Every film thus far has the usually plot, which of course involves chasing the bad guy and having at least one car chase scene. A few years ago, Gladiator came out in the summer and captivated audiences with its path to glory story of one man. It was good enough for so long that the film eventually went on to win the Oscar for Best Film. Well, another path to glory film is coming out and with its “strong legs”, may lead the film to ride past the summer for a financial success. Seabiscuit is more than just the story about a horse who overcame major odds to be successful. It’s an old fashioned story of triumph that’s well-scripted and filled with excellent performances by the cast.

Based on a book by Laura Hillenbrand, Seabiscuit tells the true story of a racing horse who no one paid any attention to until one man decided to give it a chance. Set in the early 1920s, Charles Howard (Bridges) was a man filled with big dreams. During the Roaring Twenties, when times were good for everyone, Howard ventured out on his own as a auto repairman, which led him to become financially successful as Buick car dealer. With a wife and a young son, the future only looked brighter. That is, until the stock market crashed and depression hit faster than wind speed. Howard had enough to survive the woeful economy until he lost his spirit when his son died in a car accident and his wife left him. Meanwhile, John “Red” Pollard (Maguire) grew up with a big family and loved riding horses. When the depression hit, his parents “sold” him to a man who would train him to be a horse rider. Over time, Red boxed around town to earn more money but kept losing matches and endangering his body. Tom Smith (Cooper) has loved horses his entire life, treating them with such respect it would take a lot for him to put even one horse “down”.

Turning his life around when he shifted industries, Howard and his associates followed the horse tracks and saw how profitable it had become during these hard times. It is there where he would meet his second wife Marcela (Banks). While looking to buy a horse, Howard hired Smith, who would know which horse to pick. Seems there’s a horse who has the potential to be good, but lacks the speed and control one would need to ride it. The name of the horse was Seabiscuit and Smith decided to give it a chance with Howard’s trust in him. Seeing Red Pollard fend off some guys in a struggle, Smith thought that Red and Seabiscuit would be a perfect match together. Both are not considered to be in the best of shape and are always losing races, on the track and in the ring, respectively. It took some time but Seabiscuit started winning as the country started improving and that set the stage for what would become the biggest horserace at the time. Sam Riddle and his horse War Admiral were the biggest winners at the time, with War Admiral capturing the 1937 Triple Crown. It was David versus Goliath and folks were clamoring from all over to see this race go down. With the race for respect for all involved and other obstacles in the way, Seabiscuit, Red, and Howard, persevered to be a part of America’s glory.

Although this story and the film looks like a cliched “feel good” movie, it is nevertheless very uplifting and rewarding as you walk away feeling emotionally attached to the film. Tobey Maguire is fast becoming today’s Gary Cooper, the common man that everyone wants to see play characters with some realism. After Spiderman put him on another level, it’s good to see him choose a script that works for him. Bridges is equally as good, but you could make a good argument that he’s playing the same character he played in Tucker: The Man and His Dream, which would make his performance here flawless. Cooper, fresh from winning the Best Supporting Oscar for Adaptation brings the same “A” game that brought him the award months ago. His belief in Seabiscuit and the looks he gives the horse are priceless. Macy, in a class act, nearly steals the film with his quick comments and his mannerisms. Someone who deserves a lot of credit is the horse trainer for Seabiscuit (or the 8 thoroughbreds that played the role). He did an amazing job. Training animals to do what you want is not an easy task and each horse should get a special award for a job well done. Seabiscuit is not only a charming and elegant film for all, but it’s a film whose universal appeal should make it a contender comes next March.