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Overall Rating

Awesome: 27.45%
Worth A Look44.12%
Average: 18.63%
Pretty Bad: 0.98%
Total Crap: 8.82%

6 reviews, 66 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"Finishes Out Of The Money"
3 stars

Some stories need to be told in all facets and forms. Fiction has taken so many liberties with stories that it often blurs the line when a true story is even too amazing to believe. Compelling stories from Apollo 13 to Titanic catapult from the screen while smaller scale tales make their way into the land of movie-of-the-week. That is, until a book can capture the heart of America; an underdog tale that is as much a story about its author as its subject matter. Many of us weren't around when the racehorse Seabiscuit made its rise into legend territory, but have witnessed our own heroes in the sports world and their legend grow with each weaving of the circumstances surrounding them. Sometimes the actual event can't live up to their status in our own imagination; not even when it's played out right before our very eyes.

Laura Hillenbrand's book took a wise approach to branching out the underdog status to the three men in Seabiscuit's life. Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) was a down-on-his-luck bicycle salesman who rose to tycoon status in the Buick industry before tragedy tore apart his family. Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) was the last of a dying breed of cowboys who saw cars replace horses in the stables. Johnny "Red" Pollard (Tobey Maguire) was a young man whose parents left him to pursue his gift of jockeying when the Depression became too much for them to handle.

Writer/director Gary Ross lays down their history in a thorough prologue (lasting 45 minutes) against the backdrop of both prosperity and desperation in America. The turn of the century brought a new tide, dreamers were everywhere and the stock market was there to take it all back. Ross uses PBS narrator David McCullough (The American Experience) to take us through the ups and downs to the point where we wonder if an audiobook would have served us the same purpose.

These three men will eventually come together thanks to the horse named Seabiscuit, a small, banged-up little guy once used to give other horses confidence on the track. With a little training and the right amount of care, this "nag", as referred to by racing announcer Tick Tock McGlaughlin (William H. Macy, in a terrific scene-stealing performance), is ready to show everyone what he's got.

Unfortunately, it comes through a series of checklist events that barely seem fleshed-out even at a running time of 140 minutes. Ross showed a perfect knack for storytelling with his 1998 directorial debut, Pleasantville. Compare how many plot threads there are in that film (and how much more is understated) to Seabiscuit, where most of the scenes are too short to create any sort of indelible emotional impact.

Smith is presented as perhaps the original "horse whisperer" yet there is little to no alone time between him and Seabiscuit. There's a natural parallel between Howard, who lost a son, and Pollard, who lost his parents, but Ross never crosses the finish line on their relationship. The screenplay walks the line between avoiding all the usual clichés (despite their historical relevance & dramatic intrigue) and shooting them right out of the cannon about second chances, underdogs and dialogue like "It's better to break a man's leg than his heart." Ham-fisted metaphors pop up more than once and two more subplots arise before one can get resolved. Pollard's visual impairment is hinted at in an early scene and then forgotten about by the time he wins six races on Seabiscuit. Then when it's discovered by his partners ("he lied to us!" Um, when?); it's brushed off as a minor point in the name of second chances.

Something is vaguely saddening at how the true impetus for why America knows these men -- the title character -- is given such short strift on his own persona. As stories about animals go, a horse may never be able to compete with a dog or a piece of animation, unless he's talking, despite being one of the most majestic of all creatures. Since there is no voice or personality, in comes the narrator to give us Seabiscuit's past. Ironic also that for all the weight that Smith puts on not exploiting the animal for publicity purposes (in another brief scene), isn't there an unwielded hypocrisy that these three men are using this horse for their financial (and implied spiritual) gain? After all, as Smith says, "he's a racehorse." Is it also a good idea to show such a horse lover chasing down and roping a horse only to cut immediately to him alone sitting by a fire with something cooking on the spit?

Not even the cast gets the chance to cross over into that potential for Oscar seers to sit up and take notice, although they are unilaterally fine. Maguire never gets as emotional a scene as the actor who plays the younger version of himself. Cooper is introduced with the potential of having another great supporting role as the older, monosyllabic trainer (and is, admittedly, a standout) but is always playing second banana to historic footnotes. And the always reliable Jeff Bridges, and I can't believe I'm saying this, is actually digging back into his archives to play a character that can best be described as "the man and his dream." (This is the second time I've said this about Bridges this year; his Sundance entry Masked & Anonymous shows traces of "The Dude".) Elizabeth Banks may have have the biggest fourth-billed nothing role in history as Howard's second wife who is always on hand to look pretty and ask an occasional question for one of the three men to answer. The film ends on such an unorthodox note that despite the appearance of a finish line, closure for any of these characters is given up once again to a voiceover.

Underdog story, true-and-true, this is as terrific a tale as they come. From down-and-out status to the famed West vs. East coast rivalry with War Admiral, to rising up once again. Recanting such stories, though, is usually best handled with a certain degree of schmaltz. After all, that's what audiences want, right? To feel good and to identify their own personal struggles, if only in just one of the four browbeaten souls? It would have served Ross best to just lose the intrusive narration trying to turn this into a Ken Burns saga, since the idea of Seabiscuit becoming the "people's champion" and bringing hope to the masses never goes further than seeing crowds of people cheer. But I've seen THAT at Arlington Park hundreds of times.

With a cast, a filmmaker and a story as inspirational as this, Seabiscuit should have either flown out of the gate or come charging late in the stretch, rather than constantly waiting to make its move in the middle of the pack. I hate not being able to like this movie and I wouldn't tell people not to see it, but the year's first true Oscar contender it doesn't deserve to be. The racing sequences are quite thrilling, but not one compares to seeing a truly great stretch run played out without cuts. Sometimes when the legend becomes fact, print the legend. Don't film it.

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originally posted: 07/25/03 15:08:34
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell very good 4 stars
4/25/10 Monday Morning One of the best. Solidly in my top 5. 5 stars
1/13/09 Anonymous. one of my favorite movies, so inspiring :] 5 stars
10/22/08 Shaun Wallner Great story! 4 stars
4/21/08 action movie fan a bore from start to finish-tobey should be ashamed 1 stars
3/08/08 Pamela White inspiring and heartfelt story 5 stars
10/29/07 mb beautiful movie, deserved its oscar nomination. 4 stars
1/27/07 Tamara Leonard Loved the movie. Great cinematography. 5 stars
10/19/06 David Pollastrini not great, not terrible 4 stars
5/18/06 chienne Phar Lap was better, same sort of story, but good all the same. 4 stars
5/08/06 R.W.Welch Fine acting and cinematography. Macy does a great bit as flaky sportscaster. 4 stars
5/02/06 Shit on a stick My name says it all 1 stars
10/16/05 Quigley good acting, story and directing, but this is no hidalgo. 4 stars
8/31/05 Captain Craig Great production values and a wonderfull story. 5 stars
8/13/05 ES Many times I thought this horse destine to be nothing more than a glue stick, yet never was 3 stars
7/01/05 Eddie Very good acting+a good story=Seabiscut 5 stars
6/01/05 Suan Lee I loved this movie and the horse won my heart 5 stars
5/08/05 Bluto Chris Cooper and Jeff Bridges are master craftsmen 4 stars
3/03/05 Steve Newman Very enjoyable, easy to the eye. Definately rent this on eout 4 stars
2/12/05 Sylvia Belle enjoyed the movie 4 stars
2/06/05 choser It is my life 4 stars
11/24/04 Emperor's New Clothes You just can't hate on something so sweet 4 stars
10/22/04 T thoroughly enjoyable film. some top-notch performances 4 stars
10/17/04 Elisheva Rison It was Spiderman--but on a horse! Cool! 4 stars
10/17/04 Charlene Javier Like riding a mule. 3 stars
8/10/04 Peeved Prufrock Hollywood tries to write a better story than God- not even adequate Cliffs Notes 3 stars
8/08/04 psychotic black dwarf Substance is there, but the horse just doesn't captivate...bummer. 3 stars
7/21/04 Harry J If you like great movies, this one definitely fills the bill. 5 stars
6/01/04 Frazier A good movie with a lot of heart, worth a look 4 stars
4/18/04 valerie hart very good movie its touching and emotional and heartfull 5 stars
3/24/04 Margie i'm a sucker for underdogs. good movie. Beautiful scenery, music and costumes added lots. 4 stars
2/26/04 Stephanie Throckmorton Ultimately poignant, after taking forever to get started. 4 stars
2/21/04 Denise Duspiva A good story 4 stars
2/17/04 Lindsay Fantastic!!!! What a great movie. 5 stars
2/01/04 britney this movie should win this years OSCARS awards 5 stars
1/16/04 earthling This is the most formulaic, predictable piece of sentimental crap I have seen since 1 stars
1/02/04 Andy a fun movie 5 stars
12/30/03 HorrorScribbler Kinda like "Rocky" only with a horse instead of a beefy Italian. 4 stars
12/20/03 Kent Wonderful, heartfelt movie. Great movie! 5 stars
12/18/03 alien assassin Captivating historic drama 4 stars
12/02/03 My Two Cents Seabiscuit and Pumpkin and Tic Tock are great. The history is captivating. Holds your inter 4 stars
12/02/03 Chris I really loved this great drama with so much crap out there this was a delight. 5 stars
11/26/03 Gi Gi havn't seen it, but the name SUX 5 stars
11/22/03 Law Feelgood, really true, interesting, a little long 4 stars
11/09/03 EthelbertP Enjoyed it. 4 stars
8/28/03 Mr. Hat Great horses.1st hour's OK, but gets shallow. Holds record 4 slo-mo shots w/dramatic music. 3 stars
8/28/03 JJ from da block Sea biscuits are good, but the butt biscuits they cause are sickening 1 stars
8/19/03 chris i can only handle so much "if you believe in yourself you can accomplish anything" crap. 3 stars
8/17/03 Lord Chu Inspirational & heartfelt. Though I couldn't help but expect Red to start wall-crawling:p. 5 stars
8/05/03 jeremy loathsome, boring, pathetic, uninspiring, melodramatic hooey. 1 stars
8/05/03 KINKO horse is dead, fall in a bed, cut of his head, forever DEAD hahahahahaHA!!!!!!! 1 stars
8/05/03 T Owens Brilliant 5 stars
8/05/03 Tiffany It had a slow start but a great finish. It kept you cheering for the little guy. 4 stars
8/04/03 Movie Guy Bah! It was boring as hell. Gag me. 1 stars
8/04/03 Joman the best feel good sports movie since Rocky 5 stars
7/30/03 ownerofdajoint what an awesome movie.go see it!!!!!! 5 stars
7/30/03 A disappointment 3 stars
7/29/03 Asshat Like we really needed all of those lingering shots of Tobey's face. What a wuss... 1 stars
7/29/03 Rod Johnston I had a Seabiscuit yesterday and it tasted like crap. It tasted like Kurts girlfriend Lish 5 stars
7/29/03 Susannah The audience cheered and gave a standing ovation when the movie ended. That's rare! 5 stars
7/29/03 Taylor Fladgate Heartfelt story succeeds in spite of the script. 4 stars
7/28/03 Haggs Wonderful. Theatre applause. How/where can I obtain an answer to a question I have? 4 stars
7/27/03 leonard An INSULT on ever level. Garbage at it's best. 1 stars
7/26/03 Shaq Okay. 3...words. TOBEY...MAGUIRE...NAKED. 5 stars 5 stars
7/23/03 Ryan Parmele Good but not great 4 stars
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  25-Jul-2003 (PG-13)



Directed by
  Gary Ross

Written by
  Gary Ross

  Tobey Maguire
  Jeff Bridges
  Chris Cooper
  Elizabeth Banks
  William H. Macy
  Annie Corley

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