"Seabiscuit" captures era without too much pandering

by Eric Melin on July 25, 2003

in Print Reviews

Set during the Great Depression, when America was in desperate need of an underdog, “Seabiscuit” is an entertaining, yet mildly overwrought movie based on a true story.

Writer/director Gary Ross (“Pleasantville”) has taken Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling novel about a little horse that beat all the odds, changed a couple of facts, but left the spirit of triumph in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity intact.

Certainly in this summer of action and superheroes, “Seabiscuit” sticks out like an old-fashioned sore thumb. And that’s just what Universal Pictures is counting on. Look for the word of mouth to grow in the coming weeks. This is a fairly solid piece of American entertainment.

The horse that the title refers to is drawn into an unlikely partnership with three men who have been beaten down. In a long section at the beginning of the film, Ross introduces these men set against the backdrop of a national tragedy. The self-made moneyman (Jeff Bridges), the damaged jockey (Toby Maguire), and a loner of a trainer (Chris Cooper), are all men of their times. Bridges is extremely effective as Charles Howard, the horse’s owner. His braggadocio is exceeded only by his inner sadness, and the former obviously drives the latter.

Jesus, am I really writing this? For some reason, I end up using big three-cent words when I review a period piece. So much for that. Here’s the straight deal: It’s like “Rocky” with a horse. There’s three men instead of one, so the story is a bit longer and more involved. The depression-era setting and costumes are very cool, but sometimes the message is a bit heavy-handed.

It’s not too stodgy, though, and way cooler than watching something on A&E or The History Channel. Bridges kicks ass. Maguire is really good. Cooper does the best with what he has, which is not much. William H. Macy has a delight of a role, and is his usual reliable self. I could have done without the narration.

“Seabiscuit” never surprised me, but I was into the story, and it captured the feeling and time of an era well.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers.com and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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