IMR: Extras: Reviews: Movies: Seabiscuit

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[ Rating: 30_of_50_stars ]

The story was inspiring. The cinematography was gorgeous. The acting was sharp, if a little stiff. An Oscar contender for sure. But for all the acclaim, Seabiscuit falls flat.

When you have small children, you don't go out to movies — you wait for them to come to you. While you lose the chance to see the latest and greatest flick, you gain the ability to let the masses figure out if it's worth seeing in the first place. When Seabiscuit (2003) got a Best Picture nomination, I figured it was a safe bet to see on DVD.

Seabiscuit is a very well-made picture. It's also, for a post-Baby Boomer like me, quite educational. But it's also long. And despite all the galloping, it never seems to hit its stride.

If you've seen the movie poster, you know the basic point: Seabiscuit is the true-life story of a small, abandoned horse that went on to win just over a gazillion big horse races, thereby restoring a wounded America's sense of hope and faith in the potential of the little guy.

If you can imagine stretching that last sentence out to fill 141 minutes, you've got a sense of how director Gary Ross came to overthink every single scene, from that long lingering shot of the beautiful countryside to that slow pan of a child's bedroom where the little toys are lit just so by the setting sun. To add a little color, black-and-white newsreel footage is slipped in, with narrator David McCullough giving more context than you could shovel out of a barn.

Whole chunks of Seabiscuit flowed with the style and grace of a PBS documentary. And, don't get me wrong, I like PBS documentaries. In fact, I got a better sense of what life was like during the Depression from this Hollywood film than I ever got from dozens of textbooks.

But the filmmaking seemed just so self conscious, I couldn't stop myself from admiring the presentation long enough to lose myself in the story. It was like looking for drama in a Pottery Barn catalog.

That said, there is a lot to like. The parts, in this case, surpass the whole.

Tobey Maguire shines as jockey Red Pollard. His performance brings about as much fire and color as you'll find in Seabiscuit, and at times he seems like he's just aching to break out of the imposed stuffiness of the movie. Chris Cooper all but steals the show as Seabiscuit's trainer Tom Smith. And William H. Macy does what he can with his part as radio announcer Tick Tock McGlaughlin, a cheesy character that knows he's cheesy and yet soldiers on.

Jeff Bridges hit all the right notes as Seabiscuit owner Charles Howard, but most of the time he looked like he just stepped out of a Harley Earl commercial for Buick. Millionaire Samuel Riddle (Eddie Jones), meanwhile, is the spitting image of Rich Uncle Pennybags.

Seabiscuit is a good movie. Just not a great one. I have it on good authority that the book is better.


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© 1997-2008 Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: [ PGP ] · Created: 23 February 2004 · Last Modified: 14 January 2008