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Awesome: 27.18%
Worth A Look43.69%
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6 reviews, 67 user ratings

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by Robert Flaxman

"Sprawl, but good sprawl."
5 stars

The summer months are custom-made for movies like Tomb Raider and Bad Boys 2. Sometimes, though, a big-name movie comes out that isn't just a distracting piece of fluff; the sort of movie you would normally expect to see in October or November. Last summer, Road to Perdition played this role; this year, the title belongs to Seabiscuit. Though it has some problems, Seabiscuit is the year's best movie so far.

The odd thing about Seabiscuit is how long it takes the titular horse to show up. The first 45 minutes or so are spent showing the arcs of the three main characters, mostly Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) and Johnny "Red" Pollard (Tobey Maguire). Howard started off as a bike repairman and then made millions selling cars, but his marriage dissolved after his son died in a car accident. Red was talented with horses from the age of 16, but his parents left him at a stable when the Depression hit, something he never really got over.

So why does it take so long for Seabiscuit to show up? It's because, despite the title, the horse is only as important as the characters he interacts with. Even though he was real, Seabiscuit acts as something of a metaphor for the American spirit, lifting the characters as well as many Americans.

It is a Gary Ross film, after all. Seabiscuit isn't the only metaphor. Howard is focused on the future, the automobile, and spends the first part of the film saying "I wouldn't pay more than five dollars for the best horse in the country" and turning the stables on the estate he buys into a garage. Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), Seabiscuit's enigmatic trainer, is an ex-cowboy struggling to come to terms with the shrinking of the West. When Howard loses his son, he retreats into the past and looks at horses again, and he and Smith realize, with Seabiscuit's help, that horses can be the future as well.

Then there's Red, a failure as a jockey and a boxer, half-blind, bitter at the world since his parents left him. He and Howard play off each other in that standard sports-movie dynamic of the surrogate father/son relationship, though it isn't developed as much as it might be until late in the movie.

The key to any film is an emotional tie to the characters, and Seabiscuit accomplishes that. The film could have truncated before when the characters first meet, but then we wouldn't be invested in them, and all that would be left would be an okay movie about a horse. The character development keeps the film from falling into that trap.

There are some minor problems with the film, though. First, the narration. Provided by historian David McCullough, it goes over montages of Depression-era photographs and raises the question, "Is this a film or a PBS special?" One half expects to see Ken Burns' name pop up. It would be one thing if the narration opened the movie and we had an uninterrupted narrative after that, but McCullough keeps popping back up. The most that can be said about the narration is that only once is it particularly bothersome. When Smith first sees Seabiscuit, the horse emerges out of the fog on the track. It's a neat-looking scene, until McCullough comes on and says something along the lines of "When Smith first saw Seabiscuit, the horse was coming out of the fog." The impact of the scene is immediately undercut.

The photo montages are also to blame for ruining what should have been the can't-miss scene of the movie, Seabiscuit's duel with War Admiral. It's the kind of race that needed to be shown from beginning to end, at least if Seabiscuit had any intention of being a real sports movie. Instead, Ross cuts away at the opening bell and we rejoin the race after a couple furlongs. Most of the race is there, but the whole thing would have been nice.

These are, to be fair, pretty minor problems. The three leads are great, and real-life jockey Gary Stevens gives a fun supporting performance as Red's pal George Woolf, who steps in to ride Seabiscuit in the War Admiral race after Red is injured. What seems to be the #1 rule of sports movies - have a scene-stealing radio announcer - is met with William H. Macy chewing up the scenery.

Most importantly, the horse racing scenes are incredible. The one problem with a lot of sports movies is a false feeling in the action scenes, when it either becomes obvious that these are actors or that the director is shooting around that fact. (Think Tim Robbins in Bull Durham, for just one.) Seabiscuit doesn't have that problem. Every race looks astonishing, thanks in large part to the way Ross was able to shoot them.

The best sports movies have moments that send shivers down your spine. Seabiscuit only has two or three - when Seabiscuit suddenly opens up and breaks the track record at Tanforan, that's one; the others come later in the movie during crucial races - which is a little low. It's not a bad count, but as sports movies go, that keeps Seabiscuit from hitting the top echelon. It's not that the drama's not there, it just needed a little more oomph.

Still, when it comes time to talk about the year's best movies, it will take a lot between now and December to keep Seabiscuit off the list.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8017&reviewer=385
originally posted: 10/11/04 04:27:19
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User Comments

6/28/21 Anne way too long, lack of character development 2 stars
9/12/17 morris campbell very good 4 stars
4/25/10 Monday Morning One of the best. Solidly in my top 5. 5 stars
1/12/09 Anonymous. one of my favorite movies, so inspiring :] 5 stars
10/21/08 Shaun Wallner Great story! 4 stars
4/20/08 action movie fan a bore from start to finish-tobey should be ashamed 1 stars
3/07/08 Pamela White inspiring and heartfelt story 5 stars
10/28/07 mb beautiful movie, deserved its oscar nomination. 4 stars
1/26/07 Tamara Leonard Loved the movie. Great cinematography. 5 stars
10/18/06 David Pollastrini not great, not terrible 4 stars
5/18/06 chienne Phar Lap was better, same sort of story, but good all the same. 4 stars
5/07/06 R.W.Welch Fine acting and cinematography. Macy does a great bit as flaky sportscaster. 4 stars
5/02/06 Shit on a stick My name says it all 1 stars
10/15/05 Quigley good acting, story and directing, but this is no hidalgo. 4 stars
8/30/05 Captain Craig Great production values and a wonderfull story. 5 stars
8/12/05 ES Many times I thought this horse destine to be nothing more than a glue stick, yet never was 3 stars
6/30/05 Eddie Very good acting+a good story=Seabiscut 5 stars
5/31/05 Suan Lee I loved this movie and the horse won my heart 5 stars
5/07/05 Bluto Chris Cooper and Jeff Bridges are master craftsmen 4 stars
3/03/05 Steve Newman Very enjoyable, easy to the eye. Definately rent this on eout 4 stars
2/12/05 Sylvia Belle enjoyed the movie 4 stars
2/05/05 choser It is my life 4 stars
11/24/04 Emperor's New Clothes You just can't hate on something so sweet 4 stars
10/21/04 T thoroughly enjoyable film. some top-notch performances 4 stars
10/16/04 Elisheva Rison It was Spiderman--but on a horse! Cool! 4 stars
10/16/04 Charlene Javier Like riding a mule. 3 stars
8/09/04 Peeved Prufrock Hollywood tries to write a better story than God- not even adequate Cliffs Notes 3 stars
8/08/04 psychotic black dwarf Substance is there, but the horse just doesn't captivate...bummer. 3 stars
7/20/04 Harry J If you like great movies, this one definitely fills the bill. 5 stars
6/01/04 Frazier A good movie with a lot of heart, worth a look 4 stars
4/17/04 valerie hart very good movie its touching and emotional and heartfull 5 stars
3/24/04 Margie i'm a sucker for underdogs. good movie. Beautiful scenery, music and costumes added lots. 4 stars
2/25/04 Stephanie Throckmorton Ultimately poignant, after taking forever to get started. 4 stars
2/21/04 Denise Duspiva A good story 4 stars
2/16/04 Lindsay Fantastic!!!! What a great movie. 5 stars
1/31/04 britney this movie should win this years OSCARS awards 5 stars
1/15/04 earthling This is the most formulaic, predictable piece of sentimental crap I have seen since 1 stars
1/02/04 Andy a fun movie 5 stars
12/29/03 HorrorScribbler Kinda like "Rocky" only with a horse instead of a beefy Italian. 4 stars
12/19/03 Kent Wonderful, heartfelt movie. Great movie! 5 stars
12/18/03 alien assassin Captivating historic drama 4 stars
12/02/03 My Two Cents Seabiscuit and Pumpkin and Tic Tock are great. The history is captivating. Holds your inter 4 stars
12/01/03 Chris I really loved this great drama with so much crap out there this was a delight. 5 stars
11/25/03 Gi Gi havn't seen it, but the name SUX 5 stars
11/21/03 Law Feelgood, really true, interesting, a little long 4 stars
11/09/03 EthelbertP Enjoyed it. 4 stars
8/27/03 Mr. Hat Great horses.1st hour's OK, but gets shallow. Holds record 4 slo-mo shots w/dramatic music. 3 stars
8/27/03 JJ from da block Sea biscuits are good, but the butt biscuits they cause are sickening 1 stars
8/18/03 chris i can only handle so much "if you believe in yourself you can accomplish anything" crap. 3 stars
8/17/03 Lord Chu Inspirational & heartfelt. Though I couldn't help but expect Red to start wall-crawling:p. 5 stars
8/04/03 jeremy loathsome, boring, pathetic, uninspiring, melodramatic hooey. 1 stars
8/04/03 KINKO horse is dead, fall in a bed, cut of his head, forever DEAD hahahahahaHA!!!!!!! 1 stars
8/04/03 T Owens Brilliant 5 stars
8/04/03 Tiffany It had a slow start but a great finish. It kept you cheering for the little guy. 4 stars
8/04/03 Movie Guy Bah! It was boring as hell. Gag me. 1 stars
8/03/03 Joman the best feel good sports movie since Rocky 5 stars
7/29/03 ownerofdajoint what an awesome movie.go see it!!!!!! 5 stars
7/29/03 pgunn@akingump.com A disappointment 3 stars
7/29/03 Asshat Like we really needed all of those lingering shots of Tobey's face. What a wuss... 1 stars
7/28/03 Rod Johnston I had a Seabiscuit yesterday and it tasted like crap. It tasted like Kurts girlfriend Lish 5 stars
7/28/03 Susannah The audience cheered and gave a standing ovation when the movie ended. That's rare! 5 stars
7/28/03 Taylor Fladgate Heartfelt story succeeds in spite of the script. 4 stars
7/28/03 Haggs Wonderful. Theatre applause. How/where can I obtain an answer to a question I have? 4 stars
7/27/03 leonard An INSULT on ever level. Garbage at it's best. 1 stars
7/26/03 Shaq Okay. 3...words. TOBEY...MAGUIRE...NAKED. 5 stars 5 stars
7/22/03 Ryan Parmele Good but not great 4 stars
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  25-Jul-2003 (PG-13)



Directed by
  Gary Ross

Written by
  Gary Ross

  Tobey Maguire
  Jeff Bridges
  Chris Cooper
  Elizabeth Banks
  William H. Macy
  Annie Corley

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