Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper,
Elizabeth Banks, Gary Stevens, and William H. Macy
DIRECTOR / WRITER:
Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall,
Gary Ross, and Jane Sindell
Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum,
Tobey Maguire, Allison Thomas, and Robin Bissell
BASED ON THE BOOK BY:
In providing movie reviews on our site, CBN.com is not endorsing or recommending films we review. Our goal is to provide Christians with information about the latest movies, both the good and the bad, so that our readers may make an informed decision as to whether or not films are appropriate for them and their families.
Seabiscuit is either the best episode of PBS' An
American Experience ever made, or it is a movie with the most
innovative use of narration and historical fact to tell a story. Now
this epic tale is available on video and DVD.
The movie opens with photographs of the era, easing the audience
into America's shoes during the Roaring Twenties. Many period films
set the historic stage, then abandon it to tell the story of their
characters, usually taking wild liberties with history in the process.
Seabiscuit, however, is the genuine article. It promises a
1930's movie, and it delivers. At times it's hard to tell if Seabiscuit
and company are being used to tell the story of America, or if America
is being used to illuminate the characters. In either case, this movie,
like its heroes, is a diamond in the rough.
In a series of short, perfectly tailored vignettes, the audience meets the
three central characters. Charles Howard (played Jeff Bridges) is a self-made
millionaire devastated by the loss of his son. Tom Smith (played by Chris
Cooper), a rugged cowboy, is a man who has lost his way of life and his purpose.
Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire), a too-tall failure of a jockey, still reels from
the loss of his family. Each man seeks to solve his own problems and fails,
and, though none of the characters meet until well into the film, their stories
intertwine from the beginning. While historian David McCullough's familiar
voice fills in the gaps in the audience's historical knowledge, Gary Ross,
the screenwriter and director, wraps his story around it, as a microcosm of
the American experience.
When his wife leaves him after the death of their only son, Howard's friends
try to cheer him up by taking him to Tijauna, where he meets his second wife,
the loving and lovely Marcela (played by Elizabeth Banks). Due to a U.S. ban
on gambling, all of America's racing greats are drawn to Tijuana to ply their
trade. Among them are, of course, Tom Smith and Red Pollard. Howard meets
Smith first and recognizes his talent immediately. Smith is a healer, a man
who takes care of horses that others have deemed useless. When Howard asks
him why he fixed up a broken horse, Smith looks at him as though he ought
to know better and answers "Because I could." Confident that this
is a man who can find him a champion, Howard hires him.
As it turns out, Smith is not only good at finding horses that people have
forsaken, he also has the same talent for people. In a scene that can only
be described as brilliant, Smith stands between the abused and ornery Seabiscuit
fighting off his handlers and a fiery young red-headed jockey named Red fighting
off a group of stableboys. Smith glances back and forth between the two, and
he knows he has his jockey. The rest, as they say, is history. The unexpected
four-way partnership that develops not only changes history, but it also changes
Seabiscuit is an excellent movie on so many levels, it would be difficult
to recount them all. Perhaps the most surprising element in the movie is the
fact that, though it would appear to be a vehicle for rugged individualism,
it actually goes out of its way to show that typical American grit isn't enough
to truly live. Despite the amazing feat of turning an abused, obstinate, no
name horse into 1938's Horse of the Year, and the even more amazing feat of
bringing the same horse back from a career-ending injury, this movie shows
that success is an empty goal. The true importance in these events is the
effect they have on the lives of three men. Seabiscuit is a great racehorse,
but ultimately he is a healer himself, bringing Howard, Smith, and Pollard
out of themselves and their dismal pasts and into the thing that Howard consistently
emphasizes throughout the picture: the future.
Seabiscuit is more than just a good horse movie. It is far more than
a rags-to-riches Cinderella story. It is a story of redemption, and the truths
expressed are deep and hard. Although the characters are able to help heal
each other, no one's problems simply disappear. The central theme of the story,
expressed twice in the film explicitly, is Smith's philosophy. "You don't
throw a whole life away just 'cause it's banged up a little," he tells
Howard, who later uses the same line against him. The characters in this movie
know they're "banged up," and rather than define themselves by their
lack of ability, or decide they're healed because they succeed, they look
to each other. In a way, this is an inherently Christian message.
The storytelling itself is masterful in Seabiscuit. Gary Ross weaves
brief vignettes of historic photographs and narration into the story. Most
films use old photographs to compensate for a lack of authenticity in the
film itself, to remind the audience of the period of the piece. Ross, however,
uses them to tell the story, to heighten suspense, and to effectively place
the audience in Depression-era America.
To further increase historical accuracy, Ross employs professional jockeys
not just as extras in race sequences or stunt doubles, but even in starring
roles. Gary Stevens, Hall of Fame jockey and winner of eight Triple Crown
races, gives a delightful performance as George Woolf, Red Pollard's more
popular friend. Ironically, Stevens won the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award.
His appearance, and Chris McCarron's race design, add an element of veracity
to the film.
From costuming to choreography to the screenplay's content, Seabiscuit
is truly a film about an historical period. It also puts the audience right
among the jockeys as they battle for position during the movie's exciting
horse racing scenes.
Regrettably, however, Seabiscuit's positive qualities are spoiled
by several objectionable elements. For example, the movie contains many strong
profanities and obscenities, more than 25 instances of foul language all together.
Early in the movie, there are also references to the jockeys visiting prostitutes.
In one scene, Tobey Maguire's character lies clothed on a bed while the camera
shows a prostitute taking off her top, her naked back exposed to the viewer.
In another scene, jockeys ride scantily clad women like horses at a Tijuana
whorehouse. Finally, the movie implies at one point that the Big Government,
socialist policies of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great
Depression made suffering Americans feel like they are "not alone."
In other words, the State is your Daddy or Mommy and, when in trouble, you
should look to the President of the United States instead of your family,
church, the Bible, the God who created you, or Jesus Christ, who saves you
from your sins and helps you in times of need.
Only the foul language is pervasive throughout the movie, but all of the
negative sounds and images could be completely cut out without ruining the
movie's story, atmosphere, or realism. Also, a Christian, God-centered filmmaker
could have strengthened the movie's positive elements to make an even stronger
morally uplifting message.
Therefore, moviegoers should carefully consider whether they want to sit
through the negative elements in Seabiscuit. Still, in a season when
movies packed with explosions and R-rated material dominate the box office,
Seabiscuit may follow its namesake's example and prove to be a longshot
worth betting on. When it is good, it is very, very good, so good, in fact,
that it may be well remembered next February during the Oscar ceremony. Not
the least of its pleasures is the heartwarming performance by Jeff Bridges,
one of America's best actors.
NOTE from Dr. Ted Baehr, publisher of Movieguide Magazine: For more information
from a Christian perspective, order the latest Movieguide Magazine by
calling 1-800-899-6684(MOVI) or visit our website at www.movieguide.org.
Movieguide is dedicated to redeeming the values of Hollywood by informing
parents about today's movies and entertainment and by showing media executives
and artists that family-friendly and even Christian-friendly movies do best
at the box office year in and year out. Movieguide now offers an online
subscription to its magazine version, at www.movieguide.org.
The magazine, which comes out 25 times a year, contains many informative articles
and reviews that help parents train their children to be media-wise consumers.
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