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on October 14, 2003
The term "feel-good movie" is, like "popcorn flick" and "chick flick," one of those sweeping and usually inaccurate generalizations that are used to color any number of superficially similar films. If the definition is stretched broadly enough, "feel-good" can be used to describe anything from Chariots of Fire to My Big Fat Greek Wedding. In the summer of 2003, however, there were two movies for which "feel-good" was both accurate and complimentary. One was Bend it Like Beckham. The other was Seabiscuit.
For those not familiar with the story, Seabiscuit was a famous racehorse of the Depression era, competing between 1936 and 1940. His career is chronicled in the marvelous book Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand. Hillenbrand's lengthy, detail-rich narrative is, like many great books, too complex to transfer note for note to film, but writer-director Gary Ross takes on the formidable challenge of bringing Seabiscuit's tale to life on the big screen. Ross wisely chooses to follow Hillenbrand's lead, building the story around the three men who respectively owned, trained, and raced the horse: wealthy auto salesman Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), cowboy Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), and jockey Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire). Ross makes shrewd choices about which details and characters to delete, which events to compress or eliminate altogether, and which aspects of the story to highlight. The result is a wonderful character-driven drama, a story about the power of friendship, love, hope, courage, and never giving up.
Ross takes his leisurely time introducing the three men. Seabiscuit himself doesn't even make an appearance until about an hour into the movie, and when he does, he's the catalyst that brings the trio together; the trials and triumphs they experience are all the more satisfying because the viewer understands each character's history. In the process of rebuilding this broken-down racehorse and making him a champion, the three men, each wounded in his own way, also heal each other and mend their broken lives. Inadvertently, they provide millions of Americans with an unlikely cultural icon, an underdog hero who gives ordinary people a badly-needed dose of hope.
The story, with its ups, downs, and amazing comeback, might seem mere Hollywood contrivance were it not based on actual events. Even the most casual moviegoer pretty much knows how the tale will end, but that doesn't diminish the enjoyment of it in the least. The tone of the film helps sell its credibility: warmly sentimental without being saccharine or manipulative, funny without being crude or cynical, beautiful without being artsy or pretentious. The tragic moments are doubly powerful because they're filmed with an eloquent understatement. Ross employs a wonderful visual shorthand, conveying just as much in images--if not more so--than he does in dialogue. He delivers a lot of the film's humor with the same technique: abundant one-liners and quick reaction shots produce any number of genuinely laugh-out-loud moments.
The cast is uniformly outstanding. Bridges gives a terrific performance; he makes Howard warm and charming and fatherly and likeable, a great guy with a big heart. Cooper's role as Smith is smaller, but he hits exactly the right notes as a survivor of America's vanishing frontier, a man more comfortable with horses than with people. But the undisputed star of the show is Maguire, who is simply luminous as Pollard--as well he should be; the jockey's role was written specifically for him. Pollard has been wounded more deeply and more often then the other two leads, and perhaps for this reason, the viewer's heart goes out to him the most strongly: he's angry and vulnerable, scarred physically and psychologically, but funny and likable and literate, all at the same time. Maguire develops the character beautifully as the movie progresses; the viewer sees Pollard slowly let down his barriers and make connections with his new surrogate family.
As wonderful as each performances is, the chemistry that the actors have together is even more notable. It's true ensemble acting; the cast as a whole adds up to more than the sum of its individual players. The supporting folks are also terrific. Elizabeth Banks gives a strong turn as Howard's warm and supportive second wife, Marcela; real-life jockey Gary Stevens makes a confident acting debut as legendary rider George Woolf; and William H. Macy is hilarious as fictional radio personality "Tick Tock" McGlaughlin, who provides much of the movie's humor.
Of course, this is also a movie about horse racing, and Ross doesn't disappoint. The races are filmed with an intimate excitement that conveys the beauty, pulse-pounding exhilaration, and sometimes brutality of thoroughbred racing. However, unlike many action movies, the racing sequences never take over the story; they are all the more breathtaking because the viewer knows and cares about the characters who are pouring their lives into these glorious animals.
Visually, the movie is a feast. The 1930s are re-created fabulously, from the cars and towns and trains to the characters' smart suits and hats to the wonderful old racetracks. The widescreen cinematography is magnificent, and the lovely score by Randy Newman infuses the movie with equal measures of beauty, humor, and nostalgia.
The main complaint critics have leveled at the film center around the use of voice-over narration (handled ably by historian David McCullough) and archival photographs to provide some historical context for the story. This was a risky choice artistically, but it enables Ross to convey the social forces at work in Seabiscuit's world without taking awkward detours in plot and character development. For the most part, the narration is used sparingly and in the right places. A couple of the later sequences could probably have been trimmed out, but they hardly ruin the movie.
Probably the only mis-step Ross makes is drawing too many overt parallels between the rebuilding of the racehorse and the rebuilding of the nation via Roosevelt's New Deal. Ross makes it fully clear in the story that Seabiscuit had become a symbol of hope; he didn't need to use the narrative sequences to hammer this point in quite so strongly. Sixty thousand people pouring into a racetrack to watch a horse run for two minutes is testament enough to the affection that Seabiscuit inspired. But even here, Ross isn't too far off the mark: the New Deal may have provided jobs, but Seabiscuit gave people something intangible: the belief that they, too, could overcome the odds and triumph over adversity.
Although best seen on a big screen, the DVD will no doubt be chock-full of extra goodies. In the theater or at home, viewers can be assured their money will be well-spent: Seabiscuit is a movie that satisfies on pretty much every level.
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on September 1, 2003
In the middle of a summer of bad sequels "Seabiscuit" came along as a bit of fresh air. No other film this year thus far has been filled with such emotion, beauty, and heart. "Seabiscuit" is a rare gem of a film. It does not rely on special-effects, explosions, or cheap romances. The beauty of this film is that it is simply about the pure heart of a horse and the people around him.
Writer/Director Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Big) adapted Laura Hillenbrand's painstakingly researched bestseller into an amazing script. The story itself is so extraordinary that, if it hadn't happened, wouldn't have been remotely plausible as a film. If Seabiscuit wasn't a real horse, I would have taken one look at this film and said "Ridiculous! Like that could really happen!" The fact that the story is true makes "Seabiscuit" an even more beautiful and emotional journey.
Tobey Maguire plays Red Pollard, a half-blind, oversized jockey who was abandoned by his family as a child and now rides the worst horses at the worst races. Chris Cooper plays Tom Smith, an old fashioned horse trainer who prefers the company of a horse to that of a person who one day finds a barbed wire fence and cars in the middle of his wilderness homeland. Jeff Bridges plays Charles Howard, a self-invented millionaire dealing with the loss of his only son. These three "broken" men and a banged up little racehorse unite together and beat incredible odds to become an inspiration to a nation that isn't in the best shape itself.
Everything in this film is amazing. From the remarkable racing scenes to Randy Newman's haunting score, "Seabiscuit" is one film you won't want to miss. Please excuse my vagueness, I can't put into words how astounding this film is (as you can probably tell from this dismal review). I am just so in awe that words escape me!
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on November 2, 2003
One of the best movies I've seen in a long time.. I think people fail to see what this movie is realy about..If you don't have a tear in your eye when George wolf and the biscuit break away from the admiral in the final stretch of the match race, than I think your realy missing the moment.. And you should be in full cry mode when Red Pollard breaks through the pack to win the Santa Anita Handicap.. Sure they could have talked more about events in the book,like Charles Howards other son, he's not mentioned once, or his friendship whith Bing Crosby, and how the biscuit had a rival with his horse. And lets not forget the Awsome performance by the Great Jockey Gary Stevens as the Ice Man himself George Wolf.. I think Gary was the perfect part for George and would have liked to see more of him.. His riding for the finish line in the match race was poetry in motion.. But all in all this movie is summed up in the end when they say this is about a horse that changed the lives of three men when in actuality it changed a country. It gave people light at the end of a dark tunnel, and showed with the right love and the Heart to do your best you can overcome anything. At least thats what I got out of it...
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on December 13, 2003
I never read the Laura Hillebrand book by the same name, but I did see the Seabiscuit movie and let me tell you - it was phenominal! I know some say it was cliche - but the story is TRUE! It's not just some Hollywood writer trying to come up with the latest feel good animal movie, it's actually true.
The acting was amazing in the movie. Tobey Macguire did a great job as alcholic jockey Red Pollard, and Chris Cooper was outstanding as the horse-whisperer-like trainer Tom Smith. Jeff Bridges (who is not one of my favorite actors) did a decent job in his role as well. One of the funniest characters was William H. Macy's announcer during the races, he cracked me up! Another surprisingly good performance was real life pro jockey Gary Stevens playing Red Pollard's friend and rival, jockey George Woolf.
The story is wonderful, taking place during the 1930's when the country is reeling from the Great Depression. Jeff Bridges character, Charles Howard, is a business man whose wife leaves him after their child is killed. He suffers from depression and ends up at a horse track where he meets a new girl and ends up buying the unruly Seabiscuit. He meets up with outcast horse trainer Tom Smith and the unpredictable Red Pollard and the three of them take America by storm with the amazing Seabiscuit.
The film is beautifully done. The locations are gorgeous and the race scenes are phenominal. Seabiscuit is a hero and an inspiration in his own right, not only because he won races - but also because he gave hope to so many people at a time when they really needed it.
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on October 10, 2006
This review rating is not for the content of the movie itself, but for the quality of the HD DVD transfer.

This is one of the best titles for picture quality to come out so far in the HD DVD format. The standard DVD release was great for picture quality, so I was excited to see what this one is like in the HD DVD format. Picture quality is very impressive. The textures of the period clothing in the film really stand out. Blacks are very dark, and the movie has great shadow detail.

The sound quality is also a dramatic improvement over the standard DVD. While there is no Dolby True HD sound, the Dolby Digital plus soundtrack is great.
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on July 25, 2003
I had extremely high expectations for "Seabiscuit" when I walked into the theater. I had been waiting for it for a while, seen several video clips and trailers, read the novel to prepare myself, and was convinced that it was going to be a fine piece of work. And it was. But it didn't meet my expectations.
Why?, you ask. I am sure the reason for my slight disappointment was the fact that I had read the book beforehand. For the first half of the film, my mind told me that something was missing. This missing link is not the result of any of the filmmakers' mistakes...it is simply difficult to capture the feel of a 339-page novel in a film that is less than 3 hours long.
Despite this, the movie is completely enjoyable. Overflowing with humor and drama, no one should leave insatiated. Tobey Maguire is absolutely brilliant as Red Pollard! Don't get me wrong, Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper give fine performances, but Maguire is just marvelous. This man is undeniably one of the most talented actors to ever live. Performances like his make me wish that I was able to act.
Fans of the book might be frustrated. A lot of the novel's content is cut out, obviously due to time constraints. However, most of what needs to be shown is shown.
Despite what critics say, "Seabiscuit" is not a family movie. There is a fair amount of profanity, and one scene is set in a brothel. This content is simply inappropriate for children, and I cannot understand why people are promoting it as if it isn't.
If you want to experience a touching story of triumph that captures the spirit of America, see this movie. You'll be glad you did.
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on December 19, 2003
This movie is proof that Hollywood IS capable of putting out a quality product. All the elements come together on this one-rare indeed. Gets my vote for Picture Of The Year.
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The greatest problem for the movie SEABISCUIT is the book SEABISCUIT, and given the latter's enormous success as a bestseller, I am rather surprised that they filmmakers didn't try to hew more closely to the book. Granted, given the need to compress the much larger content of the book into the less information-friendly film, things had to be cut out and compressed. What I found especially disturbing were a couple of major plot details that did nothing to add to the movie otherwise, but in fact were profoundly untrue. The first of these that bothered me was Red Pollard's confessing to Smith and Howard that he was blind in his right eye, a secret he in fact kept throughout his career as a jockey. Also, Pollard suffered twice from serious injuries, but because of runtime for a film of this sort, they had to compress the injuries into one, the second one that primarily involved his shattered leg. Again, many liberties were taken here: he did not shatter his leg only two weeks before the match race at Pimplico, but sometimes earlier. And by cutting out Pollard's injury, we are left with the false impression that it was the match race where Woolf rode Seabiscuit as well.
See, this is the plight of the person who reads the book shortly before seeing the movie (I read the book on Wednesday and head to the Chicago suburbs to see the movie on Friday): you end up knowing too much. I'm not disturbed by what they leave out, but I am bothered by what they put in and alter. ... The movie made some unfortunate though perhaps unavoidable changes with Seabiscuit himself. He was much shorter than the horses he raised, though stockier and short legs. The horses used to portray Seabiscuit weren't especially notable for their lack of size. More importantly, none of the horses playing Seabiscuit were able to lock their legs, which Seabiscuit was famously unable to do. This meant that Seabiscuit, unique among horses, could never sleep standing up, but only lying down. The inability to lock his legs led to a life-long rumor that he was either crippled or lame. But no mention to his truly awful legs was made throughout the film, I suspect because they weren't able to find a horse whose legs didn't lock.
Overall, I think the film was very well cast. Jeff Bridges, who has one of he most dramatically underappreciated careers in Hollywood, is superb as Charles S. Howard, automobile magnate turned horse entrepreneur. Chris Cooper excels as Tom Smith, taking on an ashen and aged appearance that is perfect for the film (he looks so different from his Oscar winning role in ADAPTATION that it is hard to accept he is the same actor). I'm not sure Toby Maguire was the right choice to play Pollard. He wasn't the right size physically, but far more badly he is devoid of the famous demeanor of Red Pollard, who had a perpetually mournful expression on his face, causing many to compare him to Buster Keaton.
All in all, the movie ends up being more than the summation of its parts. The movie does possess a great period feel, and if an enormous amount of the detail about the setting up of the match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral was left out, they do a great job of reenacting that race (which according to multiple sources I consulted after reading the book truly is regarded as the greatest horse race of all time).
But any reader of the book, to be able to enjoy this movie at all, it going to have to make a pack with oneself to not get hung up on the movies errors. I was partially able to do this, and was more or less about to enjoy the film. I do recommend the movie, but I definitely recommend the book considerably more. The movie is OK, but the book is great.
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on March 9, 2004
Sensitive, heartfelt and heartwarming yet not maudling or corny. This is one great Hollywood epic for everyone who roots for the underdog, er. . .horse. Seabiscuit is an Equine "Rocky" for sure. It may have you tearing up at times, but that's not bad in this case. It's a great story and there's a happy ending too. What more could anyone want? Wish that horse were still around.
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on January 18, 2004
There is a lot of unreedeming, worthless trash coming out of Hollywood these days. With that in mind, I recommend Seabiscuit as an antidote to said trash. Nowadays, anything with heart and a good message that doesn't shock, offend, or annoy should be encouraged, even though the negative comments about this film are mostly valid. Yes, it is confusing at the start as you wind up awash in characters, but it all settles down and gives you something to cheer about, which is what Seabiscuit evidently did for the Americans in the Depression. Yes, it is refrigerator magnet-like in its earnestness. Dont let that stop you from renting or buying this mostly wholesome, uplifting movie.
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