Gary Ross’ wonderful movie Seabiscuit is a heartfelt true-life tale you won’t want to miss.
If ever there was a tale of triumphing over the odds, then Seabiscuit would most definitely be a contender for its crown. He’s the little racehorse that gave America something to root for in a time when hope had been quashed. Writer / director Gary Ross, whose debut was the clever Pleasantville, delivered something even more special I think with his second film. Adapting Lauren Hillenbrand’s best-selling novel about one of the greatest sporting moments of the last century in 1938, he gives us a heartfelt, beautifully envisioned tale that gets me every time I watch it.
The elements of that achievement are introduced to us, one by one, at the start of the film – Seabiscuit was a headstrong colt, whose owners dismissed any talent he might have possessed as a racehorse because he was too small, he surely couldn’t match any other horse on a racetrack; businessman and entrepreneur Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges in another of his peerless performances) had carved out a successful career in the early 1920’s, selling the new fad, automobiles but this had also inadvertently paved the way to a personal tragedy; Tom Smith (the estimable Chris Cooper), a talented horse whisperer and trainer was struggling to find work now that horses were quickly being replaced by motor cars as the main method of transport in an America leaving the Old West behind; and Red Pollard (the brilliant Tobey Maguire), a young jockey, is eeking out a hard living riding the racing circuit with more failure that success.
It’s when Howard vacations across the border to Tijiana with his friends, who hope to pull him out of his gloom by taking him to see the horseracing at the Santa Anita track, that events begin to take a turn in everyone’s favour. Here, Howard not only decides to invest in a racehorse but he also meets his soulmate Marcela (a superb Elizabeth Banks) who will become his second wife and sees Smith, who although slightly unorthodox, is the trainer he thinks he needs.
Now all they need is a horse and a jockey. Smith finds both – Seabiscuit, a small colt, barely 15 hands with a limp in his walk and Pollard, a young man with a passion for riding but a fiery temper. Could this angry boy make the difference though and steer the colt all the way to the finish line? He certainly can and we watch with delight as the trio and Seabiscuit take on all comers and begin to win race after race. It’s “the little guy” as Howard calls his horse, being given a second chance when people had written him off that journalists lap up, making the connection between Seabiscuit’s triumphs and America struggling to pull itself out of a Depression which no one thinks is possible.
The horse becomes an absolute champion of the people but there’s one match that would prove who’s the greatest of all time and so Howard begins tirelessly pursuing the owner of champion racehorse War Admiral (a terrifically mean-spirited and unforgiving Eddie Jones) for a showdown that stops the whole of America (and us) in its tracks. It’s one of the high points of this terrific film as you will the little horse to come out on top.
The whole thing is such an amazing story, superbly photographed by John Schwarztmann and scored by Randy Newman, with terrific support in the form of Ed Lauter as Howard’s racetrack owner friend Charles Strub, Michael Angarano as the young Red, Michael O’Neill as his literature-loving father and William H. Macy on totally winning form as the wacky horseracing commentator Tick Tock McGlaughlin. He pops up midway through the film and all but steals the show with his hilarious narration of Seabiscuit’s races “No more match races for this little horse because frankly they’re all out of matches. Who’s he gonna race? Pegasus?”
The idea that what Howard and Smith did was to look beyond the surface to see the real quality of something underneath, is such a great lesson and Ross presents it to us with all its emotional power here, in a tale that I think you won’t want to miss.Tags: Chris Cooper, Drama, Gary Ross, Jeff Bridges, Lauren Hillenbrand, real-life events, Seabiscuit, Tobey Maguire, true story