Film Review © 2003 by Trip Reynolds
Directed by Gary Ross; Screenplay by Gary Ross from the book by Laura Hillenbrand; Produced by Patricia Churchill, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Gary Ross, and Jane Sindell; Executive Produced by Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Robin Bissell, Allison Thomas, and Tobey Maguire.
Starring Jeff Bridges (as the classic American rags-to-riches wonder boy, self-made industrialist and entrepreneur par excellence, Charles Howard), Tobey Maguire (as the down on his luck but forever committed to realizing his potential, the slightly overweight and slightly blind jockey, Red Pollard), Chris Cooper (as the seasoned, sage-like, free-spirited, proud, and the best horse whisperer and trainer to Seabiscuit, the world's fastest horse, Tom Smith), Elizabeth Banks (as the second wife of Charles Howard, the young and beautiful Marcela Howard), William H. Macy (as a Walter Winchell-like radio personality, Tick Tock McGlaughlin), Valerie Mahaffey (as Charles Howard's first wife, Annie Howard), and Dyllan Christopher (as the son of Charles and Annie Howard, Frankie Howard).
Wow! This film succeeds on so many levels...where to begin. Well, since films typically sink or swim based on the story let's start there. It's a simple but robust story of how three men and a horse (yes, a horse!) continue to overcome life's obstacles and setbacks - no matter how difficult, even if no one believes in them. The source book by Laura Hillenbrand goes into much greater detail, nevertheless, film does an excellent job bringing life to all key players - even the horse. Jeff Bridges is at a point in his career, like Robert Duvall, that he breathes life into any character he plays, which is exactly what he did with his portrayal of Charles Howard. At the beginning of the 1900s, as America burst into its early industrial period some men were lucky enough to have the drive, ambition and ingenuity to place themselves at the apex of change. Howard went from being an assembly line worker at a bicycle factory to moving out west and owning his own bicycle shop, to repairing the newfangled automobiles, to owning automobile dealerships and more. Howard believed in the future of American and in his future, and ultimately he realized the "American Dream" which included great wealth, a loving wife, and a loving son. Howard was able to retain his wealth, even through the Great Depression, but life dealt him a serious blow that devastated his family, and Howard was no longer certain about his future.
Unlike Howard, the plight of the Great Depression had a worse financial impact on Tom Smith, a down on his luck, out of work expert horse trainer who, even if he didn't have to, would rather sleep outside among the stars with nature at his feet than endure the inhumanity of being discarded solely because of his age. Chris Cooper's portrayal of Tom Smith will likely gain him another Academy Award® nomination. Then, there's Red Pollard, played earnestly by Tobey Maguire, who grew-up riding horses and, as a teenager during the Great Depression, eventually turned his excellent skill at riding and racing to become the bread-winner to his unemployed father, mother and sibling. Thinking they were doing what's best for Red, his parents abandon him with a local race track owner, and his life became a rollercoaster ride of few peaks but many valleys from then on. However, Pollard grew-up reading the classics and never lost his idealism, his belief in himself, without regard to the challenge before him or the size of his opponent (he also boxed to make ends meet). And last, there's Seabiscuit, a horse born from legendary stock but never a major winner in his own right, typically smaller than his competition and, of course, seemingly past his racing prime. Eventually, these three men and horse meet and propel each other to achieve what many believed as impossible - but not just once, they achieved the miraculous several times!
Film succeeds in capturing the human spirit which, as stated by Smith, is something we should never give up on even when someone gets older, or gets injured, or gets a little rougher around the edges. The indomitable human spirit can overcome anything. Even more importantly, as represented by Seabiscuit, it's a blatant mistake to overlook the indomitable spirit of any living creature! Life is not easy, but does come with great satisfaction upon achievement of our potential - if you're willing to go after it. There a great scene where Seabiscuit is in a match race against a much bigger horse who was already a legend in his own time. Having lead the race from the start, Seabiscuit actually slows down to get a better sense of his opponent's spirit and then, after doing so, Seabiscuit kicks into high gear and leaves the much bigger and supposedly faster horse in his wake. That's grab'n life's gusto! That's Muhammad Ali shouting, "I AM THE GREATEST," even after being stripped of his heavyweight title and winning it back repeatedly. That's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stuffing his legendary sky hook down the throats of so many Johnny-come-lately NBA pseudo-superstars! That's Frank Sinatra winning an Academy Award® after everyone in Hollywood gave up on him and repeatedly doing it "his way!" You've gotta like, "Seabiscuit." Ultimately, like so many, all Howard, Smith, Pollard and Seabiscuit wanted was respect, the money was secondary. They got both.
Oh, yeah, let's not forget William H. Macy's standout performance as a Walter Winchell-like radio personality, Tick Tock McGlaughlin. Macy's was definitely having a great time with his radio antics and he gave the film a great period feel. There could be another Oscar® nomination coming his way. As the second wife of Charles Howard, Elizabeth Banks gave her relatively small role as Marcela Howard a wonderful boost.
Film also succeeds in capturing horse racing very up close and very personal. There are many "how did they get that shot" sequences which are simply amazing. The visual and special effects crews delivered in photographing horse racing as never seen before. Plus, Randy Newman's music performs as an excellent wraparound and connection between scenes but without being dominant. Film editing by William Goldenberg is very sharp and supports extremely effective storytelling by director Gary Ross.
Film has a brisk running length of 140 minutes.
Recommendation: Easily one of the best - if not THE BEST film you'll see this year, or any other year!