Proving that truth is often greater than fiction, the handsome production of Seabiscuit offers a healthy alternative to Hollywood’s staple diet of mayhem. With superior production values at his disposal, writer-director Gary Ross (Pleasantville) is a bit too reverent toward Laura Hillenbrand’s captivating bestseller, unnecessarily using archival material—and David McCullough’s familiar PBS-styled narration—to pay Ken Burns-like tribute to Hillenbrand’s acclaimed history of Seabiscuit, the knobby-kneed thoroughbred who “came from behind” in the late…
Proving that truth is often greater than fiction, the handsome production of Seabiscuit offers a healthy alternative to Hollywood’s staple diet of mayhem. With superior production values at his disposal, writer-director Gary Ross (Pleasantville) is a bit too reverent toward Laura Hillenbrand’s captivating bestseller, unnecessarily using archival material—and David McCullough’s familiar PBS-styled narration—to pay Ken Burns-like tribute to Hillenbrand’s acclaimed history of Seabiscuit, the knobby-kneed thoroughbred who “came from behind” in the late 1930s to win the hearts of Depression-weary Americans. That caveat aside, Ross’s adaptation retains much of the horse-and-human heroism that Hillenbrand so effectively conveyed; this is a classically styled “legend” movie like The Natural, which was also heightened by a lushly sentimental Randy Newman score. Led by Tobey Maguire as Seabiscuit’s hard-luck jockey, the film’s first-rate cast is uniformly excellent, including William H. Macy as a wacky trackside announcer who fills this earnest film with a much-needed spirit of fun. —Jeff Shannon
Barnes and Noble
An impeccably produced throwback to Hollywood’s Golden Age (and one of the year’s true sleepers), this superb drama is very much like its real-life equine inspiration: a little slow out of the gate but full of heart and great fun to watch. Based on Laura Hillenbrand’s runaway bestseller, this is the (mostly) true story of Seabiscuit, an undersized racehorse who became a symbol of triumph over adversity to Depression-weary Americans during the ‘30s and ‘40s. Owned by millionaire Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), trained by former cowboy Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), and ridden primarily by emotionally damaged jockey Red Pollard (top-billed Tobey Maguire), Seabiscuit beat the odds time and again, becoming a champion even after being sidelined with a crippling injury, and ultimately making a fortune for his handlers. But this movie isn’t just about the horse; it’s about the three men who guided his destiny, men who weathered hardships and endured the loss of loved ones. Maguire is achingly vulnerable—yet not always sympathetic—as the half-blind jockey who never quite gets over being abandoned by his parents in the Depression’s darkest days. Bridges, in his best performance in years, shines as the perpetually optimistic auto magnate who survives the death of his young son and the dissolution of his once-happy marriage to see both his business prosper and his racehorse become a phenomenon. Chris Cooper is nothing short of amazing as the grizzled old wrangler whose knowledge of horses is positively uncanny, and who laments the loss of his all-but-obsolete way of life. Writer-director Gary Ross limns these three characters in great detail, and the actors bring them to life beautifully. Carefully produced to be evocative of the period, Seabiscuit takes some liberties with the facts and tinkers with the chronology of actual events. But minor deviations from the historical record don’t affect the fundamental truth that Seabiscuit was a remarkable horse who achieved fame in remarkable times, due to the efforts of remarkable people. Their joint success is no less inspiring today than it was more than a half century ago, and this movie is a loving tribute to that success. Ed Hulse
He was a horse too small with a half-blind jockey too big, owned and trained by a team of misfits straight out of Central Casting, but Seabiscuit was no mere legend. The film adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling chronicle has all the foundations of an American sports classic, and this marvelously nuanced score by veteran Randy Newman is one of its cornerstones. Ever personally leery of the public overenthusiasm for the “hero music” he composed for The Natural, Newman invests this Depression era sports drama with an altogether subtler range of…
Seabiscuit was one of the most electrifying and popular attractions in sports history and the single biggest newsmaker in the world in 1938, receiving more coverage than FDR, Hitler, or Mussolini. But his success was a surprise to the racing establishment, which had written off the crooked-legged racehorse with the sad tail. Three men changed Seabiscuit’s fortunes: Charles Howard was a onetime bicycle repairman who introduced the automobile to the western United States and became an overnight millionaire. When he needed a trainer for his new racehorses, he hired Tom Smith, a mysterious mustang breaker from the Colorado plains. Smith urged Howard to buy Seabiscuit for a bargain-basement price, then hired as his jockey Red Pollard, a failed boxer who was blind in one eye, half-crippled, and prone to quoting passages from Ralph Waldo Emerson. Over four years, these unlikely partners survived a phenomenal run of bad fortune, conspiracy, and severe injury to transform Seabiscuit from a neurotic, pathologically indolent also-ran into an American sports icon.
Author Laura Hillenbrand brilliantly re-creates a universal underdog story, one that proves life is a horse race.