Preview by: Jack Foley
ALMOST every year, somewhere amid the blockbuster excess, comes
a movie of genuine worth - something that really gives audiences
to think about, other than mindless mayhem.
This year's entry is Seabiscuit, which boasts a stellar cast
and a feelgood story, which is based on real events.
But first, the cast. It stars Tobey (Spider-Man) Maguire, as
hard-luck jockey, Red Pollard, who overcame two career, and life-threatening
spills, to finally achieve glory atop the 'Biscuit, a Depression-era
horse which captured the hearts of a nation.
The horse's owner (Jeff Bridges) and trainer (Oscar-winner, Chris
Cooper) were along for the ride. William H Macy also co-stars.
The film is written and directed by Gary Ross, and is based on
the novel by Laura Hillenbrand.
Hillenbrand came across some material about the owner and the
trainer of a Depression-era racehorse, named Seabiscuit, in 1996,
when working on an unrelated subject.
Hillenbrand got on her first horse at the age of five, and had
brought together her love of horses and history by writing for
Equus and a variety of other publications.
She first read about Seabiscuit as a child and encountered him
again and again in her work, as a fan and chronicler of horseracing.
While she knew the story of the knobby-kneed horse and his strange
and inspiring career, she knew little about the people around
him - the owner, the trainer and the jockey. She had little idea
that her discovery that day would lead to a publishing phenomenon.
Four years later, Hillenbrand submitted the book for publication.
From the beginning, her expectations were modest. "I was
thinking," remembers Hillenbrand, "'If I can sell 5,000
copies out of the trunk of my car, I'll be happy.' I just wanted
to tell the story."
However, the response to the book from critics and the public
Named one of the best books of the year by more than 20 publications
- including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, People,
USA Today, and The Economist -Seabiscuit was also honored as the
BookSense Nonfiction Book of the Year and the William Hill Sports
Book of the Year.
The hardcover edition remained on The New York Times Best-Seller
List for 30 weeks; the paperback edition debuted on the list the
week of April 14, 2002, and hasn't left since (remaining there
for more than 60 weeks).
In addition to being one of Hollywood's most gifted storytellers,
director and screenwriter Gary Ross is also a long-time fan of
horseracing. Ross' love for racing started early on.
He and his wife, executive producer Allison Thomas, had spent
a fair amount of time at the track before they came across an
article about three men and an unlikely racehorse named Seabiscuit,
entitled 'Four Good Legs Between Us' in a little-known publication
called American Heritage. The author was Laura Hillenbrand.
A heavy bidding war for the film rights to the proposed book
ensued and then Ross decided to make a call to Hillenbrand.
"I talked to her about horseracing," recalls Ross,
who spent two hours on the phone with the author, "and specifically
about Secretariat's Belmont, which to me is still the most amazing
athletic achievement ever."
Hillenbrand comments: "Gary recognized, as I do, that this
is a story about people more than it is a 'horse story.'
"When I saw the movie, it was lyrical and beautiful and
just wonderful-I was so happy with the way it came out. I had
a lot of confidence in Gary Ross right from the start, from the
first conversation I had with him, that we saw the story the same
"I was so pleased with the way he wove the story of these
people together and created a much larger story. This movie is
a very intricate patchwork, and I am very pleased."
The movie opened in America to almost universal acclaim, and
is scheduled for a UK release on November 4.
The reaction to the film Seabiscuit is the type usually reserved
for the best films of the year - so talk of Oscar nominations
may not be that premature (even if the arrival of the movie may
Rolling Stone led the way, by noting that 'Ross restores
the good name of crowd-pleasing', while E! Online awarded
it an A- and described it as 'one of the best sports films of
the past 10 years'.
Entertainment Weekly, meanwhile, referred to it as 'a rare pedigreed
entrant in a summer of mules'.
And Ebert and Roeper wrote that 'if you've been waiting
all summer for a story that doesnt rely on explosions, car
chases and computer-generated effects, here it is'.
FilmCritic.com, meanwhile, awarded it four and a half
out of five, and wrote that 'it may look like a long shot, but
this one's a real winner'.
There were those who found the plot a little predictable and
sentimental, such as the New York Times, which opined that
'Seabiscuit grew out of a restless, populist strain in American
culture. Seabiscuit, decorous to a fault, pays tribute
to that spirit without partaking of it'.
And Salon.com wrote that 'Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit is
for the ages. Ross' version is designed to last only until the
next Oscar season rolls around'.
Newsday, meanwhile, felt that 'despite the mugging from
Macy and sparks of genuine turmoil generated by the ever-surprising
Maguire, there isn't a spontaneous moment in the whole picture'.
And Slant Magazine wrote that '
it's difficult to
get past the desperate historical contextualization, the queasy
Randy Newman score and a corny narrative that plays out like a
high school history report drunk on one too many metaphors'.
But, in the main, the word was good, with the Los Angeles
Times noting that 'it is not as exceptional a film as the
reality deserves, but with a story this strong and races this
expertly re-created, it squeezes out a victory by being as good
a movie as it needs to be'.
And the Chicago Tribune wrote that it is 'sleek, beautiful
and packed with emotion, not too flashy but full of heart, this
is a movie worthy of its unlikely yet glorious subject'.
The Philadelphia Inquirer referred to it as 'corny but
effective', and the New York Observer felt that 'if you dont
go away entertained, informed and sated with satisfaction, you
need to have your pulse checked to see if you still have one'.
The San Francisco Chronicle described it as 'a faithful,
loving piece of work', and CNN felt that 'Seabiscuit is
a good movie, but it could have been a great one - it just misses
by a nose'.
The Detroit News, meanwhile, seems to sum it up best,
as 'the kind of movie that makes you feel better for having watched
it, a film of endless hope and energy'.
Hence, that feels like a good way to round-up this overview....