Seabiscuit

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Cast:
Tobey Maguire as Red Pollard
Jeff Bridges as Charles Howard
Chris Cooper as Tom Smith
Elizabeth Banks as Marcela Howard
Gary Stevens as George Woolf
William H. Macy as Tick Tock McGlaughlin
David McCullough as Narrator
Michael O’Neill as Mr. Pollard
Annie Corley as Mrs. Pollard
Michael Angarano as Young Red Pollard
Ed Lauter as Charles Strub

Summary:
Seabiscuit is a classic tale of an underdog defying the odds. A strong cast, good script, and inspiring story make it a film worth seeing.

Story:
This film tells the true story of Seabiscuit, an unlikely racehorse who captured the hearts and minds of Americans shortly after the Depression.

Seabiscuit’s story starts with the team surrounding him. Charles Howard was the owner of the horse. Howard owned a booming car company and he always had his eye toward the future. However, his hopes and dreams were shattered by the death of his young son. A broken man, he eventually finds new life and a new marriage with Marcela. She convinces him to invest in a racehorse. Charles quickly falls in love with the sport and eventually regains his enthusiasm.

They find a trainer in Tom Smith. He’s an old, out of work cowboy with a different view of horses and how to train them. Charles gives him a chance and Smith begins the search for a horse. He eyes Seabiscuit, a rowdy horse with a poor history and no potential for racing. However, Smith sees something special within the horse waiting to be let out.

Smith and Howard then need a jockey. Again, the two go for an unlikely candidate. They choose Red Pollard, a down-on-his-luck boxer who also rides as a jockey. Though Red has a fiery temper, he’s too big for a jockey, and he’s never won a race, Smith decides he’s their man.

Together, the unlikely team defies the odds and wins race after race giving hope to a public rooting for the underdog. They also find redemption for each other through the spirited horse.

Seabiscuit is rated PG-13 for some sexual situations and violent sports-related images.

What Worked:
Seabiscuit is one of the first Oscar-worthy films I’ve seen this year. The acting is great. The story is dramatic, humorous, and inspiring. The cinematography is beautiful. The music fits the mood perfectly. All-in-all, it’s not only a great summer movie but it’s one you can count on to be recognized in the awards season.

The story is your classic underdog tale. Everyone loves to see a longshot win, and Seabiscuit comes out of nowhere and does it repeatedly. There’s absolutely no reason this horse, jockey, and trainer should be able to do what they do, yet somehow they manage each time. It’s the kind of story people love and if it weren’t a true story, it would be way too cheesy to be believable. Director Gary Ross also doesn’t bother with subtlety in this film. He beats you over the head with the themes and parallels he tries to get across. Our heroes’ ups and downs exactly match those of the American people. When Red is beaten down, the Depression hits. When he gets back up again and continues to fight, so does the American public. Ross also makes it very clear that Red and Seabiscuit are two characters cut from the same cloth. Both have fiery tempers, high spirits, and a determination to win. He repeatedly lets you know this in a most obvious way.

The acting is, of course, superb. Jeff Bridges plays Charles Howard and I think it’s the best role I’ve seen him in for quite a while. His enthusiasm for business and racing rubs off on you. His sorrow at the death of his son moves you. Bridges also is good at quietly developing a fatherly relationship with Red. Bridges embodies the American spirit as Charles Howard and he does it well. Supporting him is Chris Cooper as Tom Smith. It’s a unique role for the actor and very understated, yet still very memorable. Smith is quiet and soft-spoken, but we discover over time he really knows his stuff. He’s the glue that holds the unlikely team together. Finally, Tobey Maguire is excellent as Red Pollard. I never would have picked Maguire to play the role of a hotheaded, explosive young man. After all, Maguire generally looks like he lacks a pulse in most of his films. However, he manages to pull off all the anger, frustration, and emotion of the character without going over the top. Audiences connect with his character very quickly.

Backing up the main characters is a wonderful supporting cast. Elizabeth Banks is beautiful and energetic as Marcela Howard. She has great chemistry with Bridges and it’s easy to see why she could revitalize his character. (On an interesting side note, look for Elizabeth Banks to re-team with Tobey Maguire as Betty Brant in Spider-Man 2.) Gary Stevens, a real life professional jockey, holds his own with the experienced actors as George Woolf in the film. Despite this being his first movie role, he looks like a pro in the movie. Finally, William H. Macy provides a lot of comic relief as Tick Tock McGlaughlin. He’s a track radio announcer who has a lot of sound effect gimmicks and helps drive the public into frenzy for Seabiscuit.

The imagery of the film is really stunning. Shots of horses running are always impressive. Ross also gets some nice scenes of Seabiscuit emerging from an eerie morning fog, running in total darkness, and more. The races are also well choreographed so audiences can follow what’s going on. It’s amusing to see just how brutal it can get out there on the track. The score is also impressive. I was amazed to see it was by Randy “Short People Got No Reason To Live” Neuman. His score sounded a lot like James Horner’s work. It fits the mood perfectly.

What Didn’t Work:
I don’t have any major gripes about this film. However, at around 2 ½ hours it is a tad long. But I don’t see how they could shorten it much without impacting the story.

The movie also ends abruptly without telling you what happened to the characters afterwards. What happened to Red’s parents? What was the conclusion of Seabiscuit’s career like? What did Charles Howard do with the rest of his life? I guess I’ll have to read the book. That should also answer the biggest question – how much was truth and how much was fiction?

The Bottom Line:
I thoroughly enjoyed Seabiscuit and I highly recommend checking it out this summer.

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