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"Seabiscuit" - Movie Review

"Seabiscuit" - Movie Review

Genre:  Drama

Rating:  PG-13 (for language, a sexual suggestive situation, and sports-related violence)

Release Date:  July 25, 2003

Actors:  Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, William H. Macy, Gary Stevens, Chris McCarron

Director:  Gary Ross

Special Notes:  Tobey Maguire admitted that after immersing himself in the world of horseracing, he got caught up in the excitement himself and now loves to attend races. He also threw himself into his character, beginning with the physical. "I had to lose some weight so I could appear like I could be a jockey," he says. "We brought in a mechanical horse … they call it an Equicizer … to my house and several times a week I would get up there and [retired hall of fame jockey] Chris McCarran would coach me for form and to build up my strength and endurance so I could play the role."

Plot:  This is the story of Seabiscuit, a once-broken-down racehorse that overcame the odds while becoming an American folk hero at the height of the Great Depression. In truth, there are two stories being told at the same time. One is of Americans who were disillusioned by the stock market crash and subsequent Depression that wiped out their hopes and dreams. The other is the story of three men who were broken by life but saw their lives gain new meaning when a horse named Seabiscuit showed them how to rise above overwhelming obstacles. Charles Howard (Bridges), was an inventive millionaire who manufactured cars and believed anything was possible in the land of opportunity until the Depression wiped him out and a tragic accident destroyed his family. As a young teenager, Red Pollard (Maguire) was abandoned by his well-meaning parents who thought he would have a better life taking care of horses at a stable. After years of fighting for his living, Red was forced to grow up too fast in a hostile world that left him a broken young man. Tom Smith (Cooper) was a cowboy known for his talent of soothing untamable horses, but with the encroachment of modern man he grieved for the western world he had once known. As Seabiscuit beat the odds to become America's favorite racehorse, these three men overcame their obstacles and once again believed that anything was possible when someone believes in you and gives you a second chance.

Good:  In a summer full of sequels, explosions and unrealistic special effects, this movie is a breath of fresh air for Americana! "Seabiscuit" is an amazing story full of heart, inspiration and triumph over adversity. It's a true testimony to the overcoming, heroic spirit of man (and beast) when faced with overwhelming odds. Both enjoyable and rewarding, it captures the heart of an America of the past and gives us a glimpse of how people in desperate need of hope were encouraged and inspired by a racehorse. Not only was Seabiscuit a horseracing legend, but the team who came out of nowhere to become high-takes winners was also a cultural phenomenon that most of America rallied around. The true story is based on Laura Hillenbrand's best-selling book about a broken-down horse name Seabiscuit who brought together three men. Together, the four triumph over adversity – not only winning prestigious horse races but seemingly the hearts of America as well. The story centers on a Depression-era America where people lost everything they owned overnight. The rich people became poor and children were abandoned by desperate parents. Writer/producer/director Gary Ross (who previously worked with Maguire and Macy in "Pleasantville") used several unusual techniques to bring this moving tribute to the big screen. The story is told with a number of unconventional framing devices like the documentary-style scenes with stills of the Depression-torn America and narration by famed historian David McCollough. Ross likewise made a decision to use real-life Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens to play the stand-in jockey, George "The Iceman" Woolf. And he specifically wrote a part for William H. Macy who plays Tick-Tock McGlaughlin, a fast-talking racetrack radio announcer who narrates the horse races with his colorful commentary. Rounding out the tug on the emotional heartstrings is the movie's musical score by Randy Newman, which is both stirring and moving and completes the dramatic touch needed in each scene. I loved the way this script was written, with lines like, "You don't throw a life away just 'cause it's banged up a little". Although I'm a real dialogue person and would have enjoyed more exchange between Charles, Red and Tom, there are still poignant scenes that speak volumes through many words … like when Red asks Charles to lend him some money and instead of giving him the $10.00 Red asks for, Charles gives him a $20.00, telling him to keep the change. What the audience sees is a young man who was starved for a father figure (since his father had abandoned him years before) and was touched by the fact that someone would give him something extra. (That scene will break your heart.) There are incredible scenes of America as it used to be:  a time and era of fewer people, wide open spaces, an exciting sprit of optimism and hope and some phenomenal horse racing scenes that will make you want to stand up and cheer as the horse crosses the finishing line. The scenes between Maguire and his horse, as well as with Bridges, are moving. The theme of this story could be that losing doesn't necessarily make you a loser and that you can transcend obstacles and limitations. It's always good for the soul to see a true story about perseverance, overcoming the odds and being renewed with a little hope and love.

Bad:  Although I enjoyed this movie and think it deserves accolades for the beautiful cinematography, an incredible cast and the uplifting message, it still is not a perfect film. Initially, what makes this story so moving is the message of hope and restoration. (There's even a scene where the four men are in church together, implying that Charles had a belief in God.) Then, there's the other side. Aside from the mild obscene language sprinkled throughout, there's a brief scene that shows Red (beaten up by life) sitting in a brothel being seduced by a whore (no nudity or sex is shown – just dialogue) and several scenes of boxing matches and fights where Red is beaten up by opponents. But the real offense to me was the abundance of religious profanity. Why screenwriters think that cursing God and Jesus numerous times throughout a movie would add anything to the story is insulting. If anything, the language distracted from the uplifting message and focus of the story. Often times I watch movies like this and think, if the writer would have just changed one line … one line! There could have easily been a subtle, godly message that was already implied by other scenes. In one scene Charles' second wife, Elizabeth (Howard), clumsily places a St. Christopher medal in Red's hands and tells him it's for luck. He replies, "It's a little late for luck don't you think?"

Bottom Line:  Parents, I can assure you that this is not a 'kid-friendly' movie and is rated appropriately with the PG-13 warning. Because this story is true, I think it has merit and value as a teaching tool for mature teens. Horse enthusiasts will love the racing scenes and most everyone else will enjoy the tender moments between Seabiscuit and the men who loved their horse.