5 Stars – Inspirational Drama – starring Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper and Elizabeth Banks; direction and screenplay by Gary Ross; based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand – Universal Pictures, DreamWorks SKG, Spyglass Entertainment
“The first time he saw Seabiscuit, the colt was walking through the fog at five in the morning. Smith would say later that the horse looked right through him. As if to say, ‘What the hell are you looking at? Who do you think you are?’ He was a small horse, barely fifteen hands. He was hurting too. There was a limp in his walk, a wheezing when he breathed. Smith didn’t pay attention to that. He was looking the horse in the eye.”
Seabiscuit was a broken-down, angry horse that had been used to train “better” horses. What no one realized was that he was the better horse. He was little, but he had heart. And once he found a trainer that believed in him – Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) – he showed just how much heart he had.
Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire) was a washed-up, angry jockey that drank too much and got into fights. Plus, he was way too big to be a jockey, just like Seabiscuit was too small to be a race horse. But with the help of Smith, they found each other. The way it happened was pretty amazing. There was Seabiscuit, being difficult as usual, fighting three or four stable boys at once. Across the stable yard, there was Red, being hard to get along with as usual, fighting three or four jockeys at once. Smith just stood there watching, putting two and two together.
The third part of this triumvirate was Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), a businessman who had once said he wouldn’t give five dollars for a horse, and who had already pretty much lost everything that meant anything to him. But Howard had an eye for a good idea, even if it was buried beneath a banged-up exterior. Together, you have three men who need to be saved, and a horse that can do it.
Three men and a horse that have been written off by the world, but who, somehow, come to believe in each other enough to rise above the circumstances – too small, too big, broken-down, broken leg, washed-up, washed-out – they beat the odds and, together, make racing history.
It’s hard to think of a horse saving three fully-grown men. In that sense, he’s a Christ figure. Chew on that. It’s also hard to think of three losers combining forces and becoming winners. Where is the “spirit of a champion” coming from? Well, the truth is, these men, and this horse, were always champions at heart. It’s just that the world didn’t recognize it, so they beat them up and kicked them around, just as they did a lot of other folks during the Depression, and even today. In that regard, there is a real message here that everyone needs to hear.
It’s a true story, based on the best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand. Hillenbrand recreates the world of horse racing, as well as the era of the Great Depression. David McCullough narrates these sections in the film, using Hillenbrand’s text, accompanied by black & white photography from the period. It effectively sets the mood. Director Gary Ross (The Hunger Games, Big) adapted Hillenbrand’s book into a heart-wrenching script.
Seabiscuit was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, but didn’t win any. It’s a gorgeous film that did win the Outstanding Achievement award from the American Society of Cinematographers, USA. The human cast is terrific and the horse – as usually happens in movies about horses – is even better. You’ll never forget it, and, in the process, may even let Seabiscuit save you.
Most Memorable Lines:
“You know, you don’t throw a whole life away just ’cause he’s banged up a little.” – Tom Smith
“He just needs to learn how to be a horse again.” – Tom Smith
“You know, everybody thinks we found this broken-down horse and fixed him, but we didn’t. He fixed us. Every one of us. And I guess, in a way, we kinda fixed each other too.” – Red Pollard
Waitsel Smith, March 14, 2014
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Text © 2014 Waitsel Smith. Photos © Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.