Film Reviews

SEABISCUIT

By • Jul 25th, 2003 •

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Universal Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures and Spyglass Entertainment present a Larger Than Life and Kennedy / Marshall production
Running time — 140 minutes / MPAA rating: PG-13

Okay, so Seabiscuit is really a metaphor for America facing the future during the Great Depression. Or is Seabiscuit about the beginning of the automobile industry? Or poverty in 1930 when Americans had nothing to eat and even less to do? That’s a lot of important history to plow through to get to Seabiscuit.

SEABISCUIT, suggests Entertainment Weekly, is “Oscar bait.” HA! Everything that could be wrong about a movie is evident here. Where to begin? Well, let’s start with the story of an anorexic jockey with wild red hair styled circa 1930. Its clear star Tobey Maguire does not like his look and neither does his screenwriter/director (Gary Ross). Tobey is starved and looks ill. His skin looks awful. Whenever possible, the camera ignores him.

The movie, after a verbose history lesson, begins with the career of Seabiscuit’s future owner Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges). He starts out dirt poor selling and repairing bicycles but begins making cars. He becomes wildly rich. After the Stock Market Crash Americans became homeless. I will not bore you with the details I learned watching SEABISCUIT. I will bore you with the details of Johnny “Red” Pollard growing up in a large family where his mother looked to his father like he was a god and all the children quoted Shakespeare to big applause at the dinner table. Homeless because of the Crash, Pollard’s parents farm him out to someone who will feed him. He cries and begs to stay with them. He does get to keep his books.

Then there is somber trainer Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) who finds a damaged small bay named Seabiscuit. As first Smith, and later Howard, says, “You don’t throw a whole life away just because it’s banged up a little.” Meanwhile, Pollard is a tough little guy prizefighting and causing mayhem. For the rest of this long movie we find out absolutely nothing about Pollard except he’s not gay. In one isolated scene he pays a prostitute in Mexico to have sex with him. Listen up people, “You don’t throw a whole life away just because it’s banged up a little.”

I know nothing about Pollard becoming a star jockey on top of the greatest horse that turned America around and brought light and life into homes. Seabiscuit becomes a huge star but Pollard still lives in the horse’s stall on Howard’s farm. He doesn’t get accolades or women. He keeps wearing the same clothes.

Finally, Howard wants Seabiscuit to run against Triple Crown winner War Admiral. But, in a fascinating psychological moment not explored in any detail, days before his major race, Pollard helps a friend with his wild horse and destroys his leg. Pollard is not self-destructive, he just had an accident that changed his life.(?) He cannot ride Seabiscuit in the race of their lives! Star jockey George Woolf (Gary Stevens) takes his place on top of Seabiscuit while Pollard listens to the race from his hospital bed. Its as if Rocky got lost on his way to the fight with Apollo Creed.

The most important race of the movie and the star is laid up in the hospital!

See Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens in his glamour photo in Vanity Fair’s August 2003 issue. Yes Stevens is tiny but he demonstrates a self-aware sex appeal of being a star in his field. Apparently Pollard was never a confident star. The inner conflict of being a tiny man forced to stay at 110 pounds is never delved into.

With the camera studiously avoiding Maguire and Cooper scowling gravely, Jeff Bridges knew the film belonged to him. He fills the screen with his big, moneyed presence as extravagant Charles Howard. Bridges is also savvy enough to realize he’s the only sex symbol in the 140 minute movie. He’s fat, has jowls, and is old, but at least he expresses joy and charisma. The film is really all about him.

If you intend to see SEABISCUIT because of the special bird’s eye view of horse racing, yes, the camera work is impressive. But be warned. Mostly it is shot from behind the jockeys. Their weird, anorexic buttocks-up-in-the-air position makes it a rather unattractive view.

I saw a personality profile on Laura Hillenbrand, who wrote the best seller, “Seabiscuit,” that the movie is based on. Hillenbrand spent four years with a debilitating tiredness that forced her to write the entire book lying down in bed. Hillenbrand could not get up to even brush her teeth! However, I’d say it is a miracle that she was coiffed, dressed, and looked quite young and lovely for her profile interview. What adversity, what coverage, what hardship overcome! I think we should quote Charles Howard once again: “You don’t throw a whole life away just because it’s banged up a little.”


Cast:
Red Pollard: Tobey Maguire
Charles Howard: Jeff Bridges
Tom Smith: Chris Cooper
Marcela Howard: Elizabeth Banks
Tick Tock McGlaughlin: William H. Macy
George Woolf: Gary Stevens

Credits:
Screenwriter-director: Gary Ross
Based on the book by: Laura Hillenbrand
Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Gary Ross, Jane Sindell
Executive producers: Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Tobey Maguire, Allison Thomas, Robin Bissell
Director of photography: John Schwartzman
Production designer: Jeannine Claudia Oppewall
Music: Randy Newman
Co-producer: Patricia Churchill
Costume designer: Judianna Makovsky
Editor: William Goldenberg

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