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Seabiscuit (PG)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary by director Gary Ross; Bringing The Legend To Life; Seabiscuit versus War Admiral; Anatomy of a Movie Moment.

RAGS to riches stories don’t come much more remarkable than that of Seabiscuit, the Depression-era racehorse who inspired a nation.

And it is tribute to director, Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Dave), that the essence of that tale is whole-heartedly recaptured in one of the most shamelessly enjoyable movies of the year.

Seabiscuit sets its stall out from the opening scenes, as a crowd-pleaser intent on pushing all of the right emotional buttons on the way to its uplifting finale.

And while it is certainly overlong and a little too corny in places, the positives far outweigh the negatives, making this a nostalgia trip well worth taking.

Aside from being the story of the racehorse itself, the film also chronicles the lives of the three ‘lost’ men it helped to inspire - namely Johnny ‘Red’ Pollard (Tobey Maguire), a young jockey whose spirit had been broken; Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), a millionaire who has lost everything, including his son; and Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), a cowboy whose world is vanishing.

Their union helped to turn an impossible dream into a reality, and served to provide a hero to a nation that was virtually on its knees.

Seabiscuit was a racehorse so small, he was frequently mistaken for a pony, rather than a thoroughbred.

Mis-treated by past owners, he was embraced by Cooper’s Tom Smith, who immediately realised his potential, and, with the backing of Bridges’ entrepreneur, and Maguire’s promising jockey, set about achieving the unthinkable.

By the time Seabiscuit beat War Admiral, the 1937 Triple Crown winner, in a specially staged two-horse race at the Pimlico racetrack in Maryland, the horse had captured the hearts of a nation, appealing to the everyman on the street.

Yet this was only one half of the story. Just prior to the Pimlico meeting, ‘Red’ Pollard suffered a crippling injury, breaking a leg in a riding accident, which looked to have finished his career.

And while Pollard’s friend, and long-time rival, George ‘The Iceman’ Woolf, stepped in and rode the horse to glory, Seabiscuit, himself, then suffered a career-threatening injury, and looked to be finished.

But the amazing bond which existed between man and horse served as an inspiration to both, and the ‘Biscuit and Pollard returned to race once more, providing the drama for the movie’s emotional, if overblown, finale.

Much of the joy in watching the movie lies in the quality of its performances. The cast is of genuine thoroughbred quality, particularly as William H Macy also crops up as the larger-than-life reporter, ‘Tick-Tock’ McGlaughlin.

Maguire has yet to make a bad movie, while the established likes of four-time Academy Award nominee, Bridges, and Academy Award winner, Cooper, are simply a joy to be around, helping to turn some of the less-inspired material into something of an acting masterclass, without ever appearing too showy.

Ross’s film is also beautiful to look at, despite its Depression-era backdrop, making it very much a tale told through rose-tinted specs, but which works all the better for it.

And while it may feel episodic to begin with, particularly during the 50 minutes it takes to bring the protagonists together, and manipulative at others, audiences shouldn’t mind, for the tale of Seabiscuit is one well worth saddling up for, and has to rate among the year’s classiest acts.

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