Review by Michael Jacobson
Toby Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Gary Stevens,
William H. Macy
Director: Gary Ross
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 141 Minutes
Release Date: December 16, 2003
small, isn’t he?”
gonna look a lot smaller in a second.”
not only loves underdogs, it loves movies about them, which is why I believe the
sports film remains such a crowd pleasing genre. But when a picture really expands the canvas of a
little-guy-makes-good story, and the subject itself is a true life one, it’s
something really special.
is just such
a tale. Based on the Depression-era
story of one unlikely horse and three unlikely men, this is the kind of film
you’d naturally be predisposed to disbelieve.
As much as my gut told me at least one key point had to have been
invented for screen drama, I found myself researching the original articles by
author Laura Hillenbrand. Imagine my surprise to learn that the movie did NOT cheat on
any of the major historical points. It
was kind of like an aftershock of elation after the initial experience of seeing
Gary Ross saw the article-turned-book by Hillenbrand as a great slice of
Americana. Before the book and
movie came out, Seabiscuit wasn’t a name on many people’s tongues, but
during his day, he was as big a celebrity as they came.
In fact, 1938 saw more print per column inch about Seabiscuit than any
other public figure…Franklin D. Roosevelt was second and Hitler was third.
Even movie stars frequently made their way to the track to cheer on this
Ross also sees the story as one of four individuals, each broken in his own way,
coming together to do something extraordinary. Charles Howard (Bridges) was a bicycle man who figured out a
way to make a more powerful car and a fortune for himself in the meantime.
But a personal tragedy and the great crash of 1929 would steer his life
in a different direction. Tom Smith
(Cooper) was a real cowboy who saw his way of life being lost to cars, roads and
fences. He was the kind of guy others would snicker at because he’d
take the time to nurse a horse back to health when anyone else would have put it
down. Red Pollard (Maguire) had a
gift for handling horses, and so he was abandoned to the tracks by his family at
a young age when the Depression hit. Poor
and unsuccessful, he took to hard menial jobs and fighting to try and stay
alive. He had the drive to be a
jockey but not the success.
fourth individual was, of course, Seabiscuit, a horse bred to be a champion but
whose small stature and awkward gait, plus a propensity for doing nothing more
than eating and sleeping made him a reject.
He lost most of his early races and was eventually delegated to a
training horse, meaning he would run against REAL race horses just so he could
lose and build the other horse’s confidence.
By age three, he was a bitter and hard to handle animal.
when Howard turned his attention to horses, he found himself drawn to the spirit
of Seabiscuit. Smith, who became
his trainer, saw something in him that others would have discarded.
And Pollard, himself bitter and broken, had no fear of the wild stallion,
and became his jockey.
followed was the stuff of legends as the little horse no one believed in and the
three unlikely men behind him became huge successes.
Seabiscuit turned out not only to be a surprisingly fast horse and a big
money winner, but the kind of icon that captured the imagination of a nation
desperately searching for something to remind them of the greatness within
themselves. The small, awkward horse would even challenge the country’s
most prized racing thoroughbred one on one.
It was broadcast by NBC to (at the time) the largest radio audience in
history. Businesses closed early
that day so employees could hear the race.
It’s been said even President Roosevelt tuned in.
story like that would have been enough for any movie, but the greatest challenge
of Seabiscuit and his human compatriots was still to come.
Red Pollard would shatter his leg in a horrific accident, to be told he
would never ride again. Seabiscuit
himself went lame in a race, tearing a ligament and leading the horse doctor to
suggest the only thing to do would be to put him down.
Horses don’t come back from those kinds of injuries, and even if
Seabiscuit could, his jockey would never be able to take his place astride him
again. But maybe…just
maybe…there was one more miracle left…
interesting to compare this movie to the likes of The Rookie.
Both were based on incredible true stories in sports; yet the latter
managed to still succumb to all the weight of the sports film clichés, so much
so that even the truth in the tale couldn’t rise above it.
Seabiscuit, however, takes an amazing story and tells it in the
right way. This is more than the story of a nothing horse making good
and one big race scene after another. No,
this film is poetic and thoughtful, contemplative and lyrical.
There are four underdog stories at play here; four separate souls who
found it in one another to achieve greatness.
That’s the kind of story that transcends every possible genre pratfall.
cast members are excellent, but I really must single out Chris Cooper.
I’ve been a fan of his ever since seeing him in October Sky, and
he continues to prove he’s one of the greatest character actors working in
movies today. He never repeats
himself, and if you think of the crudely brass and charming orchid grower he won
an Oscar for playing in Adaptation, you’ll really be surprised at the
careworn, beaten down but inwardly strong old cowboy he realizes here.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see another Academy Award nomination in his
credit the brilliant Gary Ross, who time and time again has shown a knack for
sifting through the spectacle and finding the human spirit in his projects.
Seabiscuit is not only a technical triumph (the horse racing
sequences are the most thrilling since Charlton Heston raced his chariot in Ben-Hur),
but he never favors the event over the individual.
The action will get your heart pounding, but the drama is what will keep
it warm for the duration.
picture is a triumph in every way imaginable and one of the best movies of the
year. Seabiscuit once
reminded a nation that she could be bent but never broken. Now, decades later, the movie bearing his name reminds us of
that all over again.
cinematography in this film is superb, from the beautifully photographed
locations to the heart-pounding action sequences, and this anamorphic transfer
from Universal services it all the way. Colors
are plentiful and frequently fast-moving, but nothing on this disc loses
definition or bleeds. Images are
sharp and clear throughout, and the level of detail is strong and clear in both
bright and darker scenes. No grain
or compression are evident to mar the effect.
One piece of advice, though…this is definitely NOT the kind of film you
want to see in the butchered pan & scan version.
you want to feel what a jockey feels, listen up: this 5.1 soundtrack puts you so deep in the action you may
think you feel the galloping hooves beneath you.
Though dialogue is clean and clear and the musical score a wonderful
touch, it’s really the horse racing sequences that make this a top notch audio
entry. With the subwoofer pounding
out the vibrations and both front and rear stages opening up to give you the
full effect, you couldn’t ask for a better sonic complement to this kind of
can’t believe Universal didn’t label this disc a Collector’s Edition; it
certainly has the extras package to merit it.
It starts with a solid, informative and enjoyable commentary track with
writer/director Gary Ross, who talks about the movie from a creator’s point of
view, and fellow acclaimed filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, who chats about the
movie from an admirer’s point of view.
are also several featurettes beginning with “Bringing the Legend to Life”,
which talks with Ross and his cast members, as well as author Laura Hillenbrand,
and give you a good behind-the-scenes look.
“Racing Through History” shows archival footage of the legendary
horse while giving a modern historical perspective to his life and times.
“Anatomy of a Movie Moment” has Ross showing you step-by-step how a
sequence goes from the printed page to the silver screen.
Finally, there is a photo gallery of some of Jeff Bridges’ pics from
the set, and some production notes. The
trailer, which was a good one, is sadly missing.