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The ViewAuckland Review

Review byMatthew Turner2/09/2003

Five out of Five stars
Running time: 140 mins

Wonderful, heart-warming film with terrific performances from Maguire, Cooper and Bridges – expect this to rack up an Oscar nod or two.

Written and directed by Gary ‘Pleasantville’ Ross (working from a best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand), Seabiscuit is a thoroughly traditional feel-good period drama that is based on the true story of a famous ‘underdog’ racehorse in the 1930s.

The set-up of the film is somewhat unusual - because Ross is at pains to link Seabiscuit (the horse) in with the Depression and – ahem - Hope For The Little Guy - so it is part documentary. It uses a lot of newsreel footage and still photographs and is even narrated by US historian David McCullough (the history equivalent of David Attenborough doing a wildlife show). The surprise is that it works really well, though it does mean that it takes a while to set up the historical background for all the characters.

Three Men And A Horse

Basically, it's the story of three men who have all lost something and the horse that brings them all together. Jeff Bridges plays C.H. Howard, a self-made millionaire thanks to getting into the car business at the right time. However, when his young son is tragically killed in a car accident, he loses his wife, sells his cars and takes an interest in horses after he meets and remarries a much younger woman (Elizabeth Banks) he meets at a race-track.

Chris Cooper plays Tom Smith, a cowboy who loses his way of life thanks to the development of the motor-car and the advancement of civilization. His reputation as a weird outsider who looks after horses that would otherwise be killed is what persuades Howard to take him on.

The final character is 'Red' Pollard (Tobey Maguire), a jockey who was abandoned by his once-well-to-do family during the Depression when they realised he had a talent for riding horses (the first of many heart-breaking scenes). However, as well as abandonment and anger issues, years of boxing have left Red with a secret affliction - he's blind in one eye...

Anyway, Smith finds Seabiscuit and there's a lovely bit where we're given the horse's background in a series of flashbacks and told that Seabiscuit was an abused, lazy horse who liked to sleep and eat a lot. He's the underdog of the Horse World, but Smith sees something in him nonetheless and persuades Howard to buy him and train him. There's then a wonderful scene where Smith looks between a group of men trying to tame Seabiscuit and Pollard getting into a fight with a group of stable-hands...and decides to take Pollard on as the jockey…

The races themselves have a character of their own - they are filmed in a genuinely exciting way, with cameras right in there with the racing horses, moving between jockeys, getting jockey's-eye views of the races etc. If at all possible, try to see this in a cinema with a good sound system as the surrounding thunder of hooves adds considerably to the whole effect.

Sensational Performances

Cooper, Bridges and Maguire are all sensational. Cooper, in particular, just seems to disappear completely into his roles – Tom is meant to be at least 60-something in this and yet Cooper is utterly convincing. Bridges probably has the easier ride since he's basically the father figure, but he still has some great scenes. It's Maguire's film though, really - this is possibly his best performance to date. His dyed red hair somehow changes him and adds to the idea of his pent-up anger and fiery temper - his Shouty Scene ("He FOULED me!") is brilliant, as much for Cooper and Bridges' reactions as anything else.

On top of all that, the movie also has a performance by William H. Macey that's an instant classic - he plays sports gossip radio broadcaster Tick Tock McGlaughlin, who talks in a rapid-fire manner, makes lots of great jokes ("Who's he gonna race, Pegasus? I pity those other horses, lemme tell ya!") and punctuates them all with bizarre sound effects, usually with the assistance of a bored-looking blonde woman. His every appearance is a comic gem.

The only slight problem with the film (providing you can get past the whole God Bless America And The Little Guy thing) is that, at the end, it skirts dangerously into Cheesy Voiceover Territory, with Maguire replacing the narrator and saying something along the lines of "We didn't fix Seabiscuit...he fixed us". In fact the movie practically overflows with symbolism but somehow you forgive it because the actors are so amazing and the characters so likeable.

In short, this is one of the best films of the year. Exciting, fascinating, superbly written, brilliantly directed and impeccably acted, this is an almost certain bet for next year’s Oscars. Unmissable.

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Content updated: 22/11/2019 15:01

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