The film builds to the match between the unlikely challenger from upstart California and the star of the Eastern Establishment.


An Illusion review by Joan Ellis

 “Seabiscuit” is a winner.  This tale of a horse and the three men who owned, trained, and rode him unfolds through three memorable lead performances in a beautiful production.  Writer/Director Gary Ross has brought Laura Hillenbrand’s fine book to the screen with great fidelity.   If the author captured the interplay of this story and its times more smoothly on the page, she had a whole book as her playing field.  You may well want to see this very good movie and then read the book again.

Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) is the kind of salesman who succeeds because he truly believes in what he’s selling, a promoter in the good sense of it.  From a bicycle shop to auto parts to automobiles, Charles builds his fortune in California, state of dreams.  Money isn’t enough for this restless soul.  He will go into horseracing.  With his sure entrepreneurial eye, Charles finds his horse (Seabiscuit), his trainer Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), and his jockey Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire).  Charles sees beyond their flaws to their humanity.  He says to the press, “Our horse is too small, our jockey’s too big, the trainer’s too old, and I’m too dumb to know the difference.”  He has his team.

                And what a team.  Jeff Bridges, Tobey Maguire and Chris Cooper build three characters we know will never temper their honor and compassion with expediency.  They give us the old-fashioned pleasure of rooting for good guys to beat the odds.  In their attitudes toward each other and toward Seabiscuit, they are kind and loyal in the hardest of times.  You won’t forget these performances.

                The movie builds through heart-rending setbacks to the high suspense of the duel – the scraggly Seabiscuit vs. the magnificent War Admiral.  Awash in the emotion of the Depression and life threatening accidents, the film builds to the match between the unlikely challenger from upstart California and the star of the Eastern Establishment.  In his only major misstep, director Ross cuts away from the climactic race to convey its national significance by showing America at a standstill by the radio.  His cut-away accomplishes this, but drops the contemporary audience into the abyss.  We don’t want to miss one second of that race.  That said, the filming of the race scenes is spectacular.

                Watch William H. Macy as the radio announcer who brings the excitement to all corners of the country.  If you think he’s an exaggeration, believe me, he’s not.  Anyone who listened to radio commentators trying to hold their audience during the long stretches leading to the action will love Macy’s performance. 

If Laura Hillenbrand’s book brings a whole era to life for a new generation, the movie gives grand imagery to her words.  Telegraph, radio, fedoras, news extras, the Depression, the Biscuit, the three good men who nurtured him - just try forgetting the odd little horse with the huge spirit and his devoted team in an America that was down and nearly out.


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