For weeks now, I have heard nothing but outstanding praise for the movie, “Seabiscuit,” from critics as well as through word-of-mouth. It became clear to me that I was obviously missing out on “the” movie to see.
As “Seabiscuit” began and then continued on for an hour or so, I have to admit, I really did not see what all the hoopla was about. I started to fear that my somewhat limited interest in the storyline would cause me to be hugely letdown by this supposed masterpiece.
Somewhere between that point and the end, however, I grew to love this movie! “Seabiscuit” is definitely one of those films you tell your friends and family to go see. And people must be doing just that, because even though this movie has been out for over a month now, the large theater I saw it in was practically sold out. In fact, several of the audience members even cheered and applauded during certain scenes.
“Seabiscuit” wins viewers over by telling a story. The story centers around three men in the Depression era California. Jeff Bridges plays Charles Howard, an automobile manufacturer looking for a new and exciting stimulant for consumers and the economy. He hopes he has found it with horse racing, and most importantly, with a horse named Seabiscuit. Chris Cooper plays Tom Smith, an aging horse trainer who bears the task of prepping the title character. And Toby Maguire stars as “Red” Pollard, Seabiscuit’s half-blind jockey.
While Bridges and Maguire give strong performances, it is Cooper and the horse himself that give the film’s standout performances. Chris Cooper can out act most actors without ever having to speak. The Oscar-winning actor does a great job expressing emotions using only his face.
And while it may sound corny to admire an animal for his acting ability, one of the film’s greatest achievements is succeeding in making the audience care so much about its non-human title character. “Seabiscuit” depends upon the audience to root for this horse, and luckily for the filmmakers, this horse can act! He is not just a prop as a lot of animals in movies are, but an actual character.
Acting aside, the film also succeeds due to some excellent cinematography by John Schwartzman. There are scenes where you can practically smell the trees and horses. Plus, the horseracing scenes are filmed in such a way that you are literally placed into the race itself for a bird’s eye view of the action.
And action it is! The horseracing scenes were more thrilling than I was expecting. The thundering hoofs, exciting score and occasional jockey versus jockey fights resulted in a new breed of action scene.
The fact that “Seabiscuit” is a true story makes its story all the more remarkable. Being based on real events can often push a film past mediocrity, as in last year’s “Catch Me If You Can.” Seeing how this horse affected the lives of those people he encountered as well as the millions of fans who watched him race or listened to his races on the radio is truly inspirational. The true story element also made the lump-in-your-throat-inducing ending that much more emotional and powerful.
“Seabiscuit” is not without flaws, though. I already mentioned the movie’s somewhat clunky first quarter or so, but I also thought that several of the scene transitions were kind of choppy. Also, while the story did not depend on this to work, I would have liked a little more insight into horseracing itself. The sport appears about as self-explanatory as you can get, but I left the film having some random questions I would have liked the movie to have answered for me. “Seabiscuit” is based on a popular book, though, so maybe that would give some further details about the sport that the film neglected to include.
You can pretty much bet on “Seabiscuit” to get some attention come Oscar time, and deservedly so. Even if you think the title is embarrassing or the topic uninteresting, you should still give it a shot. I thought it was one of the most surprisingly satisfying dramas I have seen in awhile. “Seabiscuit” won me over just as the horse himself won over the millions of Americans who experienced the excitement first-hand almost 70 years ago.
4 out of 5 rams