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Seabiscuit (2003)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

This film is narrated, which has both good aspects and not so good ones. The “not so good” aspects relate to the ideological point of view espoused by the narrator. The good aspect is the aura of a news reel or documentary which seems to come along with the narration, giving a subtle air of historical authenticity to the storyline.

This movie is about a race horse and the people who were brought together around the horse. It is about America the way it once was and Americans as they once were.

The movie follows the lives of three men. The first one introduced is Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges: Tucker: The Man and His Dream). Charles Howard is shown first in a bicycle assembly operation. He is challenged by a manager at that operation which apparently causes him to rethink his situation. He is then shown operating his own bicycle sales and repair shop. It is at that shop where fortune steps in and offers him the opportunity to become involved with automobiles when the owner of a Stanley Steamer asks him to repair his inoperative car. Howard grasps the opportunity and is shown becoming successful in the automobile business. He does so through his own honest effort. His life is headed up and he exudes optimism.

Tom Smith (Chris Cooper: October Sky) is a horseman. He is first shown riding the range and eying a herd of horses. He is also shown interceding for a horse with those who would put it down. He is a person who really knows and sympathizes with horses.

Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire: Pleasantville) is shown as a boy with his large family. They emphasize literature at the dinner table. He is next shown riding horses. He has a natural talent for riding horses and his parents notice this.

The scene is set and the major human characters introduced. Then the historical era is better defined as the Depression hits. Life for Tom Smith doesn’t change that much as he was a bit of a drifter before. Now he is shown riding in boxcars with other men. Charles Howard is secure with his automobile interests. The Pollard family is devastated. They are without a home and on the road. The young Red meets a man with horses who gives him that nickname (based on the color of his hair). His parents leave him with the horseman giving him the books which they have studied together. Time passes and he grows, but remains somewhat slight of build, although large for a jockey.

The focus returns to Howard when his son is killed in an automobile accident. His wife leaves him and he is in a funk. He goes to Tijuana seeking a divorce. After getting the divorce, in a whirlwind courtship involving horseback riding he marries his next wife: Marcela (Elizabeth Banks). He wants to get more involved with horses and first looks for a trainer. Tom Smith is also in Tijuana, living in the brush with the horse he has saved from those who were going to put it down. Howard notices him, seeks him out and hires him as his trainer. They next find Seabiscuit and Pollard (who has also been spending less than idyllic times in Tijuana).

The movie to this point has not painted these characters in a picture of a “dream team” likely to defeat all comers. That is a great deal of the charm of this movie: it is a story of American underdogs rising to challenge the established champions.

The narrator praises the New Deal and its programs, but none of the characters profiled in this story are shown relying on government programs. They rely on themselves, friends or partners; not the State.

As Seabiscuit and Pollard exorcise their demons, the team becomes a winning one. Seabiscuit is a paean to America’s love affair with “the underdog.” It is also about an era and a set of viewpoints that once characterized America. They have seemed to recede more and more over the last few decades. The movie presents that near past which is a refreshing change from today’s world. It is a story about success against adversity that is worth seeing.

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Soundtrack CD