This depression-era tale and celebration of Americana, based on true events is a marvel to watch that doesn’t totally grab you from the get go, but it surely is worth watching. Directed and adapted by Gary Ross and based on the true tale of the undersized horse who lifted a nation’s spirits and brought America to its toes with its speed as the underdog, “SeaBiscuit” becomes a tale about beating the odds, the triumph of competition, and how one small animal can bring a nation together to forget its miseries. This is not a movie about a horse, no it is not, it is a tale about a horse and the three broken people who were brought together by the drive to compete.
Though the events of the first half of the film seem a bit melodramatic they all have importance throughout the film and ultimately connect by the climax leading to a truly good bond between its jockey. The too big, battered, half blind outcast Red Pollard, the cowboy and forgotten horse trainer Tom Smith, and the millionaire is kept together by his wife Marcela hoping to make a come back from his shattered tragic past, Charles Howard, all of whom unite to make a winner out of the little horse and boy do they get something out of it. This wonderfully uplifting and just magnificently directed film is a feast for the eyes with wonderful cinematography by John Schwartzman who worked on other films that lifted the human spirit including “The Rookie” and “Pearl Harbor”.
Combined, the two truly give its audience an uplifting tale celebrating America. Each character in the film is so fascinating to watch and writer Ross pulls the audience in with three conflicted and tortured characters who complete the other with skills one have that nurture the skills of their partner. Experience, street smarts, anger, wisdom is what each of the three male characters have and they’re played by it’s grade A cast of actors. Jeff Bridges is incredible as Charles Howard whom puts up hope to make it back into the public eye and regain his respect by winning through Seabiscuit, and he’s a fast talker capable of stringing along the press and hyping his horse all the while hardly ever sure about what will happen next, he’s balanced out by his young wife Marcella played by Elizabeth Banks who stands as his conscience, sensibility and voice of reason in the group of men.
Chris Cooper gives a phenomenal performance as Tom Smith, the cowboy who has watched his time move on and now wishes to fade away quietly but it brought back by Charles to break Seabiscuit and settle him down into a winner, and that he does by pairing him up with an equally tortured and equally angered Red Pollard. Given up by his parents at the start of the depression and kicked around all of his life, Red is teamed with Seabiscuit and the two form a symbiotic relationship relying on one another’s weaknesses and strengths and forming an incredible bond becoming one on the track. Instantly Tom Smith notices the similarities of the horse and man in spirit, nature, attitude and guts and decides to wisely team them together and they succeed in helping one another to win. “Seabiscuit” is by far Tobey Maguire’s best performance of his career yet.
With much humility, strength and all around acting skill, Maguire just makes the film complete. With his small boyish stature, Maguire is believable as the oversized jockey and goes the extra mile as Red Pollard the short-tempered loser with a chip on his shoulder and many demons in his past whom manages to gain new life within Seabiscuit as many of the other characters. There’s also William H. Macy whose character Tick Tock McLaughlin, the radio reporter who is a fictional character created to motivate the story but is very funny and a quirky welcome addition to the film. Macy never disappoints. Then there’s Gary Stevens who plays George “The Iceman” Woolf, friend and often times rival to Red who surpasses him in talent but attempts to help him when he’s down and pulls through all the way until the end.
With excellent directing and fine cinematography, the horse races here which are just epic, are very exciting to watch with close shots, long shots, and zooms that make it nearly impossible to discern which is the stunt double, and which is the fake horse. Bravo to Ross for creating a film that not only tells an emotional story, but creates very exciting horse races hooking the audience. And in the end, you get something that is just entertaining and satisfying, a tale of conquest, triumph, and the human spirit, I welcome movies like this, and both the horse and movie are surefire winners. While a little sap and sweetness bring this down a bit, this is a beautifully directed, exciting, uplifting, inspiring and very well acted piece of filmmaking that will keep audiences buckled in their seats, hot damn it’s a winner.