Its hard to believe now, but back in 1938 the top headline-grabber in America was a ridiculously small racehorse called Seabiscuit. In a time of depression, it was this horse that captured the publics imagination and gave a nation something to cheer for. Now, 65 years later, its threatening to do the same thing, only this time with cinema audiences.
Adapted from Laura Hillenbrands book, Seabiscuit stars Jeff Bridges as the charming car salesman-turned-horse owner Charles Howard, Chris Cooper as reclusive trainer Tom Smith, and Tobey Maguire as bulimic over-sized jockey Red Pollard (hes also ginger, hence the moniker). Together, the three of them take a short, fat, limping, wheezing, bad-tempered (hes fed up of all the why the long face? jokes) horse and turn it into an athlete, and much more besides.
Director Gary Ross, who also directed Maguire in 1998s Pleasantville, brings us one of those rare tales that manages to combine some distinctly Oscar-geared elements with some good old fashioned crowd-pleasing. Its as uplifting a tale as youll see in theatres this year, and manages to do it all without resorting to bullet-time FX, random displays of martial arts or big budget explosions. If youre looking for proof that theres still a market for such traditional output, then this is it.
Whats more, I cannot fault the performances of any of the actors, including real-life jockey Gary Stevens who makes his acting debut as Reds good friend and fellow rider George Woolf. Theres also a nice comic turn from William H. Macy as self-consciously zany radio presenter Tick Tock McLaughlin.
The one crucial criticism I have of the film is that, at well over two hours, its far too long. Much of the historical background info thrown into the mix is wholly unnecessary, and there are parts that drag on for much longer than they need to (particularly the extremely slow opening 20 minutes, which had me thinking I was in for one of the years biggest bore-fests). But hopefully that wont spoil for too many people what is largely a very enjoyable movie experience.
If, like me, youve never really seen what the big deal is with horse racing, dont fret. Theres a formula here which could really be applied and at one time or another probably has been to practically any sport of your choice. The difference here is that youre watching a true story unfold, which straight away makes this little horses achievements infinitely more impressive than anything the finest minds in Hollywood could dream up.