136. Seabiscuit (2003)

A smooth ride isn’t so fun

Directed by: Gary Ross
Written by: Laura Hillenbrand (book), Gary Ross
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges and Elizabeth Banks

Based on the true story of Depression-era racehorse Seabiscuit, Gary Ross’ dramatized portrait of the famous horse and its supporting fellow humans relies too heavily on heart at the expense of creative storytelling. While cheesiness is hard to avoid in underdog stories, Seabiscuitsmooths over a complex story, characters and a truly inspiring animal in order to fit the glossy Hollywood formula.

Resting on laurels

Set against the historical twists and turns of America, a horse, its rider and its owner tread paths of loss and suffering that lead them to come together. While the track and the prospect of becoming a winning horse is the visual goal in mind, all three go on a journey of overcoming past obstacles and pain in order to be free.

While the journey of Seabiscuit draws parallels to the rising and falling spirits of the American people during times of economic slumps, sparks of invention and progress, a steady trail of narration guides us through the film like a documentary. On top of that, we get black and white stills of America’s history as contextual snapshots. Unfortunately, this has the effect of telling us the story rather than letting the relationships between these three characters take us on a visually inspiring journey. The result? Seabiscuit races past the complex stories, characters and ideas that are more fascinating and engrossing than simple surprises and overt sentimentality. It’s only when the film launches into unexpected turns and intimate dialogue that Seabiscuit begins to involve the audience, but it’s unfortunate that it does so so late in the film and so inconsistently.

Having said that, Seabiscuit has beautiful cinematography, good performances (especially for the four-legged actor), and smooth direction. The climax of the film is truly riveting as the stakes are raised, the anticipation is high and horse racing is inherently an exciting watch. But with emphasis on the inspiring and moving qualities of Seabiscuit’s story, the film rides over more risky and creative representations, humorous potential and a greater sense of realism, making it less compelling and convincing despite its already winning place in America’s historical narrative.


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