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Seabiscuit More at IMDbPro »

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68 out of 89 people found the following review useful:

Triumphant conventionality

Author: Chris Knipp from Berkeley, California
29 July 2003

Roger Ebert says he has a theory that `people more readily cry at movies not because of sadness, but because of goodness and courage.'

This is certainly a reason why Gary Ross's Seabiscuit tugs so effectively at the heartstrings. But the main one is the way the movie shows the triumph of the underdog spread fourfold among three men and a horse. And again the timing is right in the American release. Just as Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later was delightful because it was a low budget movie that could compete with a lot of loud and dubious blockbusters, Seabiscuit earns our gratitude by being a blockbuster without explosions or exhibitionism, an epic of restraint, modesty and -- yes -- `goodness and courage.' The loudest sound you hear is the starting bell for the races. There are those of us, mainstream folk, who've been starving for such fare. I saw people in the audience in the early matinee who plainly were alive in 1929 and 1938, and they wept and applauded throughout with awe and gratitude. We shall see how the younger generations respond.

An enthusiastic response is justified. There is nothing in Seabiscuit that's very original; it awakens involuntary flashbacks to many traditional Rocky-esque sports biopics as one watches. But Gray and his chief collaborators, the talented author Lauren Hillenbrand and the splendid cast headed by Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, and co-producer Tobey McGuire, have nonetheless provided us with a quite wonderful movie, as much for its surefire writing and brilliant editing as for any of the acting.

Everyone must agree that the three men behind the most famous horse of his time are played by three of the best actors Hollywood now has to offer. Critics are in accord in saying Cooper's performance is the subtlest and the most real: he models the principle that Less is More. Tobey McGuire isn't given quite enough to do; his greatest accomplishment may be his lean look; he's barely recognizable, and as a former redhead myself I don't think the dye job is as bad as some have claimed. Bridges is, in his way, magnificent, but glossily iconic and therefore somewhat opaque. His resemblance to Franklin D. Roosevelt is pushed a bit too hard, as is the whole uplifting populist message - the `we didn't fix the horse. He fixed us - and we fixed each other,' and `sometimes all somebody needs is a second chance,' stuff. (It's pretty corny. But within the context of this beautifully made movie that believes in itself, we buy it.)

It's important, anyway - if young people do come to see Seabiscuit - for them to get the simplified, but nonetheless just portrait of the times provided with authentic stills and footage, and the voiceover narration by iconic historian David ("The Civil War") McCullough. The travelogue of the Depression and Prohibition years includes a quiet but heartfelt plug for FDR and that, too, is moving, especially in today's post-Yuppie mood of numbingly exploitive jingoism.

Indeed each of the three actors gives a powerfully understated performance - they're like thoroughbreds who're never given their head - whose litotes (a word schoolboys learned back then) enhances the movie's epic quality by never letting us forget that their triumphs were snatched from deprivation and adversity.

The long time devoted to the three men's backgrounds early in the movie isn't ill spent. It establishes the leisurely pace that is the essence of epic. But these back-stories aren't as necessary as the filmmakers may have thought. And despite the slow movement, there isn't deep detail. There's barely one scene to establish Red Pollard's (McGuire's) literate, close-knit family before he's cast (heartbreakingly) out of it. Charles Howard's (Bridge's) loss of his son is too telegraphic, though it's a fine touch to show him wailing with the boy's body but with his voice barely audible: it's one more example of the movie's sense of the period and of its restraint.

Right from the first the horse races are astonishing in the camera's closeness and vividness, the way we feel the danger and physicality of the jockeys' brutal competition with one another. Since we know Pollard is a failed prizefighter and general scrapper, we take in stride that fact that he's physically fighting with other jockeys during the early races. This is a movie about horse racing and the races had better be terrific, and they are. It's when we see the power of those sequences that we realize Seabiscuit has the makings of a popular classic.

Jeff Bridges' performance in particular seems etched in stone. There are touches of Jimmy Stewart, Joseph Cotton, even Orson Welles in his role and his looks. The chameleon Bridges comes carrying traces of Coppola's Tucker, but he has entered into the period and the tradition with utter conviction. Cooper's austere minimalism, because it is the essential spirit of the movie, its understatement (litotes), is the central performance. He is a man who communicates better with horses than with men. McGuire's performance is the noisiest, but he too reflects the social restraints of the period, and his wings are clipped before the final triumph can take place. This was a time when people had superiors and recognized it by calling them Sir and Mister. Everyone male wore a suit and tie, even jockeys off duty.

Seabiscuit's ability to tug at the heartstrings first appears when Red Pollard is let go by his destitute father so he can be a jockey. The moment is deeply sad because what seems an act of heroic renunciation by a loving parent is in fact abandonment, and it feeds the young man's rage thenceforth. And it's more complex than that because it grows out of the enormous pressures of the Depression, a time when millions in America wandered westward deprived of everything but their cars and a few possessions.

Not only Bridges' performance but whole sequences of Seabiscuit seem etched in stone and contain examples of textbook-perfect editing that possesses sweep and complexity and advances the story while keeping our focus on the prevailing mood.

This is, of course, the classic American story of triumph out of defeat and resolution out of conflict. As is a little too clearly pointed out, all three men, Charles Howard, Tom Smith, and Red Pollard, have had great devastation and loss in their lives (echoed by the whole country's economic devastation, failure, and loss of nerve; and it's implied -- with some failure of restraint -- that Seabiscuit's underdog triumphs were as needed as the New Deal). Their horse was rescued by Smith (Chris Cooper) when it was going to be shot because it seemed unruly and untrainable. Out of all this failure and tragedy the men forge their victories: Seabiscuit, the horse that lacked breeding, was untrainable, and was `too small'; Pollard, abandoned by his parents, beaten in many prize fights, secretly blind in one eye and `too big' to be a top jockey; Smith, a gifted horse tamer and trainer reduced to riding the rails and hoboing; Bridges, the self-made millionaire devastated by the destruction of all his hopes in a ruined economy and the sudden death of his young only son. They bond together to make Seabiscuit into one of the greatest racehorses in history. Who wouldn't be moved by this? Only the conventional fat man who's War Admiral's snobbish Maryland owner. It's all about heart, and Seabiscuit's got it.

William H. Macy's caricatured portrait of an alcoholic radio announcer is a highlight, in the sense of a bright spot on a painting. It's a shrill and brittle performace that we tolerate because of the moments of relief Macy's little comic vignettes provide. Subtlety is sacrificed to provide an effect, and to brush in a bit of humor amid all the earnestness. One only wishes there were more of a progression; that the character didn't sip from the same bottle in every scene but got drunker, or soberer, as things went along.

We have to allow for the exigencies of filmmaking that required ten horses to be used for Seabiscuit, leading to the irony that this unique horse is a composite.

If you accept its conventionality, Seabiscuit is not just a good movie but a great one.

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54 out of 65 people found the following review useful:

An old-fashioned winner all the way

Author: filmbuff-36 from Houston, TX
13 August 2003

It's fitting that a film about underdogs giving it all they've got has been released among the standard summer action fare. No other movie this summer has capitalized upon the David vs. Goliath theme so thoroughly and effectively as `Seabiscuit' has.

The story of `Seabiscuit' is actually the tale of four long shots: Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), a wealthy self-made man and natural salesmen who's suffered both personal and financial loss through the Depression, Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), an aging horse trainer unsure of his place in the world with the ending of the frontier, Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire), a short-tempered jockey with various handicaps against him, and Seabiscuit, an undersized mustang whose been mistreated his whole life.

It's the Depression, and times are hard on everyone. The assembly line philosophy of business is starting to squelch independent spirit and people are looking for anything to help escape the dreary day-to-day of life. During this maelstrom of hopelessness, horse racing quickly gathers favoritism among those wishing to witness a spectacle in otherwise bleak times. It's under these circumstances that the film's four main parties come together. Howard, seeking a new business venture in horse racing, hires Smith as his horse trainer and Pollard as his jockey, and upon Smith's insistence, purchases the ill-tempered Seabiscuit.

It's not long before Seabiscuit becomes the `little horse who could,' gaining favor among the sporting fans on the West Coast. But despite the popularity the mustang and his team gains, they are seen as just a cheap novelty by the East Coast horse racing elite, led by Samuel Riddle, owner of the 1937 Triple Crown Winner War Admiral. This mushrooms into a media circus as Howard tries to gain public favor in order to force Riddle to put his money where his mouth is.

The story should have felt cliched and by-the-numbers, but a funny thing happened: the film makers took a nearly forgotten moment in time and managed to invest it with immediacy and suspense. The near mythic meeting of Seabiscuit and War Admiral on November 1, 1938 at Pimlico is an extension of the movie's overall theme; Seabiscuit, the representative of underdog hopes and pioneering dreams, and War Admiral, the recipient of champion breeding and training, a product of assembly line thinking.

Bridges and Maguire give spirited performances, with their characters forming a father and son bond that both men desperately needed. Cooper, who won this year's Best Supporter Actor Oscar, can give this kind of performance in his sleep, bringing a quiet, stoic depth to the Smith character. The supporting cast is top drawer as well, especially William H. Macy as `Tick Tock' McGlaughlin, the initially skeptical radio sports commentor who becomes a full blown Seabiscuit supporter.

Director Gary Ross captures the time period marvelously, with broken human beings slowly recapturing their dignity and pride against a landscape of barren ruin. The conflicts are fought not on traditional battlefields, but atop magnificent beasts along a circular track, and Ross wisely utilizes this metaphor to full effect.

Many film goers this season will most certainly pass on `Seabiscuit,' choosing instead to see standard fare like `American Wedding' and `Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life.' Others will undoubtedly avoid it because it looks to artsy to be entertaining. For whatever reason, it will be a shame that this film will not do well financially; the horse race scenes are some of the most intense I've ever seen, and the animals are pure poetry in motion.

9 out of 10 stars. A nearly flawless motion picture.

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76 out of 117 people found the following review useful:

One of the best movies of all time

Author: toolapcfan from Omaha, NE
6 December 2004

I can't say a bad thing about this movie. There wasn't a single moment that I didn't like. Everyone who acted in this movie did no less than perfection. The movie has so much depth, has so much feeling and emotion and none of it feels forced, phoney or corny/ham handed. The development of the characters and the plot feels very natural and real and the movie flows at a comfortable pace. It's a movie you can cry tears of joy about and not feel weird about it. And to think I was so naive and close minded that I didn't see it in the theater because I told myself, "Who wants to see a movie about a racehorse?" If only I'd known how ignorant that statement was. I'd pay several times the admittance to have seen this in the theater, just to have had that added experience of seeing it there. This movie easily makes my top 5 of all time and is probably the best movie I've ever seen, and although I've seen it a few times now I still have a strong emotional response to it every time I watch it and feel my appreciation of it not waning, but only enriching. This movie is truly a "Must See." I hope you like it as much as I do.

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33 out of 38 people found the following review useful:

A very fine film!

Author: jsfmt99 from Pennsylvania
10 June 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A wonderful story of the underdog who rises above adversity to become a champion.

A very good wholesome movie for the entire family. Good period settings and costumes and interesting plot of a broken down horse who brought three broken down people together who all ended up happy. A simple, believable concept. Good scenery throughout also.

I have read a lot of negative comments about this movie by those who called it boring and tiresome but that simply isn't true. Does a movie have to have profanity and lots of CGI imagery in it to be considered good ? I don't think so.

Acting was very good but I thought the most believable scene was when Red's parents gave up their son because they couldn't afford to keep him anymore.

That scene was very sad and based on fact where parents were placed in the terrible position to give up their children like that during the depression.

What struck me funny is that Red Pollard never reunited with his family after he became one of the most famous jockeys in the country but I guess thats the way it was back in those days.

Wonderful cast and exciting horse racing scenes that brought the viewer into the race and projected the energy and danger involved. It is interesting to note that horse racing was a bigger sport in its heyday than football or baseball. Bill Macy was also memorable as the funny and witty radio announcer

A good movie for the entire family.

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28 out of 31 people found the following review useful:

It wears its sentimental heart firmly on its fetlock.

Author: Spikeopath from United Kingdom
30 March 2009

As the depression era kicks in, Americans were grasping for any sort of inspiration they could get, enter equine supreme, Seabiscuit. Considered broken down, too small and untrainable, Seabiscuit went on to become a bastion of great racehorse's, and in the process bringing solace to those closest to it.

Back in 2003 upon its initial release, critics were very divided as to the merits of Seabiscuit as a picture. Some were concerned that this adaptation from Laura Hillenbrand's highly thought of novel missed too many crucial elements, others were merely touting the tired old charge of the film purely baiting Oscar {something that is levelled at every film in history about hope and second chances}, the more astute critics of the time however lauded it as the delightful and inspiring piece it is.

It would be churlish of me to not agree that Seabiscuit is laced with sentiment, rookie director Gary Ross barely wastes a chance to tug the heart strings and paint an evocative sequence, but if you have got it in you to accept this true story for its base emotional point, then it is one hell of a wonderful experience. Seabiscuit is not just about the equine beauty of the picture, it's also a fusion of three mens personal wavering, who for one reason or another need the horse for far more important crutches than those provided by financial gain, make no bones about it, Seabiscuit is a very human drama. Knowing how the picture will end never once becomes a problem, because the historical accuracy in the story makes one yearn for that grandiose ending, one to gladden the heart in the way it must have done to thousands upon thousands of Americans back in the day.

Ross wisely chooses to filter in as much realism as he possibly can, archive stills and narration serve as exceptional points of worth to the narrative structure. Then there is the first rate cast to fully form the emotional complexities that Seabiscuit provides. Jeff Bridges, Tobey Maguire {waif like}, Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, top American jockey Gary Stevens and a splendidly jaunty William H Macy, all can rightly feel proud of their respective work on this picture. But it's with the thundering race sequences that Seabiscuit really triumphs best, magnificent beasts hurtling around the race track is excellently handled by Ross and his cinematographer, John Schwartzman, whilst a nod of approval must go to the sound departments efforts, it's definitely one to give your sub-woofer a work out.

Seabiscuit was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning none, perhaps the Academy also felt like those critics who thought it was trying too hard for a Golden Statue? But now after the dust has settled some years later, it pays to revisit Seabiscuit and judge it on its own emotional terms, for it's a tremendously well crafted picture that is of course as inspirational as it most assuredly is tender, a fine fine picture indeed. 9/10

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35 out of 49 people found the following review useful:

Seabiscuit is a winner...

Author: janyeap from Washington, DC
23 July 2003

A fabulous movie! It offers credibility to the old saying that 'if there's a will, there's a way.' It's a great reminder that there had been people - of yesteryears - who had been brave and courageous to accept the underdogs with heartfelt benevolence.

As a film, revolving around the inspiring story of Seabiscuit, it works well. It connects the cultural icon with the life paths of three men of different social standings, leading me through a mixed journey of tragedies and jubilation, risks, disappointments and exuberance. It shows how these men and beast overcome incredible odds to achieve their goals. The bonding of the quartet is wonderfully captured in this film. Watching the horse transformed into a winner is as aesthetically beautiful as seeing 'Cinderella' transformed into a beauty by her three 'fairy godmothers.' This film has a compelling story that salutes the American dream.

This adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand's book, unfortunately, does omit a great deal of the interesting biographical accounts of the trio's lives and the historical impressions of the nation's era between 1903-1940. But Director Gary Ross (watch out for his cameo appearance) does provide sufficient background to the lives of Charles Howard, Jim Smith and Red Pollard to justify how the trio becomes ultimately involved with the life of Seabiscuit. The small spirited bay is first introduced as a colt, and Red as a young kid, both ultimately separated from their parents, and both subjecting the viewers never to forget their crooked legs and their predisposition for indolence! Strangely, the film does show many similarities, in traits and circumstances, between Seabiscuit and Red. Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper and Toby Maguire are impressive in their roles. They are convincing sources to what is meant by perseverance and triumph. William H. Macy does 'tick-tock' through several scenes to provide the comic relief.

The film is filled with dramatically charming appeal and beauty, yet it has not failed to expose the brutality of horseracing. even if Seabiscuit's glory had distracted millions away from the political, social and economic woes of their times. The visuals for the story's historical era are wonderfully detailed, creating a sense of realism to the period, the characters and events. The choice of Randy Newman's music scores helps build up the viewers' emotions especially in the race scenes.

Seabiscuit is a winner!


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20 out of 24 people found the following review useful:

When Losers Have a Second Chance to Become Winners

Author: Claudio Carvalho from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
25 December 2004

After the American Depression, the millionaire Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) gets married again with Marcela (Elizabeth Banks) and decides to invest in a race horse. He gathers the old couch Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), the problematic jockey Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire) and the horse Seabiscuit, all of them losers, and he believes on them, giving a second chance to them. Seabiscuit becomes a winner and legend in a difficult period of the American life. "Seabiscuit" is a beautiful film with positive and wonderful messages. Charles Howard has the best lines, such as: "When the little guy doesn't know that he is little, he is capable of big things"; or, "Sometimes all somebody needs is a second chance". The excellent and underrated actor Chris Cooper has probably his best performance along his career. Although having 141 minutes running time, the viewer does not feel time passing. I particularly liked not only the direction, performances, locations and reconstitution of a period, but mainly the never corny and very positive messages in the excellent lines and screenplay. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "Seabiscuit – Alma de Herói" ("Seabiscuit – Soul of Hero")

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21 out of 26 people found the following review useful:

Sea of emotion!

Author: what3v3r
28 March 2005

"Sea Biscuit" is a story about a long shot horse and a man who discover each other on the road to equestrian glory. An extremely rewarding journey though the lives of man and beast. Every aspect of human emotion, bonding and courage is explored with an "equine" tinge. Set in a time when horse racing is more passion than business, Seabiscuit glorifies the positive appeal of horse racing. Every derby event is an emotional doorway which lifts your spirits. Be it the Santa Anita or the Pimilco, you are just just hanging on the edge of your seat praying, vying and hoping for a Seabiscuit win. Such is the emotional grasp and visual brilliance of Gary Ross's direction and Scwartzman's cinematography. Being a thoroughbred race horse by birth, Seabiscuit treads the race track under the watchful eyes of trainer Tom Smith (played by Chris Cooper) and jockey Red Poddard (played by Tobey Mcguire). What follows is a sequence of predictable vicissitudes. Why! This movie wasn't advertised in the mystery genre either!

A frail looking (really) Tobey manages to deeply bond with the horse at least on screen, kudos indeed. Nobody else could have possibly fit into his role as well as he did, physically too. Chris Cooper is the silent marvel. There is a completely subtle tinge to his acting which lays low, yet beautifully exuberates class. Seabiscuit is simply one of those "silent' movies which just hurtles you beyond imaginable frontiers. Sit back and relax and let the long shot consume you.

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23 out of 31 people found the following review useful:

Loved it - a wonderful uplifting (but not cheesy) story

Author: jacqsantora from United States
22 February 2005

I have not read the book or anything about the story this movie was based on - I might have to now since I enjoyed the movie so much. The point of my writing this is to say: if you haven't read the book, you will probably like this movie. I'm sure the book portrayed so much more, but I don't think you can directly compare movies and books. In most cases, I have never loved a movie as much as a book - but that doesn't mean the movie should be disregarded. In some cases emotion can be better portrayed on film. (please note that all my "quotes" are paraphrased from what i remember and only set aside in " " to distinguish it from my writing).

That said, I completely disagree with the first reviewer above who did read the book first. I really DID get the message about what Seabiscuit represented at that time: a second chance, rising above expectations against all odds, and most of all - HOPE. When I told someone I just saw Seabiscuit, they said, "oh, that's about the horse, right?" and I said, "no, it's really a story of hope and rising above tough circumstances - but there is a horse in it." I was surprised at how much history and how many images of the depression were gracefully woven into Seabiscuit. I thought it worked very well and added to the realism of the film.

I also definitely understood that Red Pollard's family was wealthy, and that they lost everything in the depression. It's pretty obvious - the whole family is shown around a great big dinner table in a very nice house; his father even buys him his own horse. Next time you see them, they are basically living out of their car with a whole bunch of other folks doing the same - a kind of depression era makeshift camp.

It's also made clear later on in the movie that he never saw his family again - there are auditory flashbacks to his parents saying they will call him; how he almost dumps all his books into the water; the fact that next time we see him he's a young man and there's no mention of his family ever again in the movie. Seems like they just disappeared - and they did. Red also displays anger and frustration that is noticed by other characters. To me, this points to a sense of abandonment by his family.

Also unlike the other reviewer, I DID care a lot about the race with War Admiral - in fact, i almost had to just skip to the end first because I was so nervous about it! This was NOT just a story of profit. In fact, it never seemed like that was Howard's goal at all - his goal was to prove that the underdog can and will win - to prove that heart and spirit mattered as much as (or even more than) wealth and breeding. That seemed to be the point of the match race with War Admiral.

This is a story of rising above profit to reach an even greater goal. It's an uplifting story, as you can see in the crowd's faces as Howard tells them, "just because he's beaten down by a nose, doesn't mean he's out." and "When the little guy doesn't know he's the little guy, he can do great big things." You can picture the men and women, unemployed and hungry, telling themselves these same words. Things will get better; we may be down, but we're not out. In the words of Tom Smith, "You can't throw a whole life away, just because it's banged up a bit." Red's words at the end are touching as well, "seabiscuit fixed us, and in a sense we fixed each other.'" Red overcame his anger, his fear, his sense of hopelessness. So did Seabiscuit. And if they can, so can you.

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32 out of 52 people found the following review useful:

Decent Movie But Book Far Better

Author: ccthemovieman-1 from United States
5 February 2006

Unlike most people, I haven't had that many cases in which I didn't particularly rave over a good movie because it couldn't live up to the book....but that was the case here.

This is a good movie. I realize that, but Laura Hillenbrand's book, from which this movie is taken, is hands-down the best sports book I have ever read. So, I eagerly anticipated the movie. I found out what so many other people discovered when their favorite was made into a film: it can't live up to it. In fairness, no two-hour film can do justice to a good book.

In this case, there were many things the jockey, owner and trainer went through that made the story so compelling, and they weren't in the movie. I won't detail them. Just read the book. But you can't appreciate what these men and that gutsy racehorse really accomplished just by the film. It only scratches the surface.

I can accept those omissions because of time constraints but I cannot accept Hollywood inserting offensive language into the movie that was not in the book, such as a dozen usages of the Lord's name in vain, NONE of which was in the book. That's inexcusable.

The movie's strength was its beauty, just magnificently filmed. Man, this is a gorgeous film, from the first shot to the last. Director Gary Ross and Director Of Photography John Schwartzman put a lot of loving care into this film and it shows. The actors were fine, too. No complaints there.

If this film appealed to you, I cannot recommended the book enough. Please check it out.

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