Seabiscuit (2003) / Drama

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some sexual situations, some violence and some language
Running Time: 140 min.

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Tobey Maguire, Chris Cooper, William H. Macy, Elizabeth Banks, Gary Stevens
Director:  Gary Ross
Screenplay: Gary Ross

Review published July 29, 2003

There's a lot of talk in Seabiscuit about fixing up a broken horse, how the horse fixed those around him, or how they all managed to fix each other.  I won't speculate to what degree all of that is true, but I can attest to the fact that Seabiscuit fixed my summer, at least as far as movies go.  At a time when screens across the country were polluted with bad sequels galore, and Gigli, out comes an old-fashioned tale of Americana to inspire and uplift.  No gunfights, no explosions, no pulsating wall-to-wall rock and techno...just a tale about a horse who could run pretty fast, and the people that rode along with him in spirit.

Laura Hillenbrand's book provides much of the backbone for this true-life retelling of the small, improbable horse that wowed a nation.  Even more improbable was the half-blind, and rather large jockey that rode him.  Apart, they were sure losers, but with the help of an old hand who rehabilitated horses, and an owner that believed in him, they became winners. 

Much of the film is matter of public record, so you're not going to be surprised by any twists and turns, even if the story is a mixture of fact and legend.  Still, as big as the reputation of the horse might be, not many know the background of the great champion, or of the people surrounding him, and those stories prove just as compelling as the races themselves. 

Writer/director Gary Ross (Pleasantville) works once again with Tobey Maguire (Spider-Man, Wonder Boys), superbly handling the look and feel of America in the late 1930s.  For a film mostly about horse racing, lots of history is put in the mix.  Seabiscuit wasn't just a horse, it was a big part of America, in a time when people needed someone to believe in, even if it was an animal.

Jeff Bridges (K-Pax, Scenes of the Crime) turns in as good a performance as you'd expect, and Tobey Maguire's take on Red makes you root as much for him as you do for the horse.  Fine character actors like Cooper (Adaptation) and Macy (The Cooler) round out the fine cast, and real-life jockeys provide many of the surrounding parts and extras. 

Ross's deft direction is perfectly complemented by great cinematography by John Schwartzman (The Rookie, Pearl Harbor) and a rousing score by Randy Newman (Forrest Gump, Toy Story), surrounding the veteran actors with equally skilled professionals in every department.  The story glides along with ease, like Seabiscuit himself, knowing when to slow down the pace then turn on the juice when the time is right.

Admittedly, Seabiscuit is from an older school of storytelling, and you'll spot many a cliché from inspirational sports films you've seen before, but rarely driven home in as satisfactory a manner.  Like a breath of fresh air, Seabiscuit reminds us of the power of good storytelling, more satisfying than any pyrotechnic display or 20 car pile-up.  Although released in mid-summer, you can bet that you'll see Seabiscuit trotted out one more time for his final big race come Oscar time.

Qwipster's rating:

©2003 Vince Leo