Based on Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling book, Seabiscuit superficially and naively underscores the many trials and tribulations of its titular racehorse with scenes of American underdevelopment. The famous horse doesn’t make his tortured appearance until one hour into the film—until then, director Gary Ross pays strenuous lip service to 20th-century industrialism and the horrors of the Great Depression. Apparently when no one could spend money on Ford’s famous automobiles during the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, consumers needed to channel their pent-up economic frustrations into other modes of transport. Tobe Maguire stars as overgrown jockey Red Pollard, an ex-boxer who is oblivious to the fact that the equally incorrigible Seabiscuit will serve as his anger management tutor throughout the course of his young life. During crucial moments in Seabiscuit’s sometimes uplifting tale of perseverance, Ross grasps for straws by cutting to key moments in American history. The implication here is that Seabiscuit soothed deflated American spirits, but Ross only succeeds in romanticizing horseracing and the sorrows of the American people. Sure, Seabiscuit is handsomely, um, mounted (the film’s racing sequences are thrilling and there’s something to be said about Ross keeping the slow-mo shots of horses rounding the bend to a minimum), but its difficult to get past the desperate historical contextualization, the queasy Randy Newman score and a corny narrative that plays out like a high school history report drunk on one too many metaphors. Red’s surrogate-son relationship to Seabiscuit’s owner, Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), is every bit as undervalued as any other subplot in the film. That’s because the filmmakers have some major allusions to pummel into the ground. As horse trainer Tom Smith, Chris Cooper gets to save more than one horse from euthanasia. This is around the same time that Red’s once-rich parents sacrifice the teen by allowing him to live among the horses at a rich landowner’s dude ranch. Via a series of facile visual motifs, Ross not only compares cars to horses but angry adolescents to the untamed beasts they ride. And when Red breaks his leg, it’s not long before Seabiscuit follows suit. The ham-fisted dialogue (essentially variations of the same two or three platitudes: “His anger got in the way” and “He’s never going to ride again”) also ensures that the audience never really knows for sure if the film’s characters are talking about Red or his horse. We get it already!
- Gary Ross
- Gary Ross
- Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, William H. Macy, Valerie Mahaffey, Gary Stevens, Michael O'Neill, Annie Corley
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