Nobody got shot, nothing exploded, there was no sexual activity, and just a limited amount of violence. And I was glad to see a film that didn’t feature those things for a change. Just some well-drawn characters, and the excitement of cheering on the underdog to victory. Repeatedly. The underdog this time was a horse, the legendary racehorse Seabiscuit.
Seabiscuit was a real horse, a longshot if there ever was one-a little too small to cut an imposing figure, and unmanageable to boot, he impressed neither the horse experts, nor the racing fans, until he met up with a trio of other longshots: Charles Howard who bought him, Tom Smith, who trained him, and Red Pollard, who rode him to victory. Mr. Howard (Jeff Bridges) was a millionaire auto executive who lost it all in the crash of ’29, but is convinced that this horse could be a winner. He sees it in the horse’s eyes. Tom Smith (played by Chris Cooper) was a fascinating loner, a former cowboy who had a special affinity for horses and a special ability to communicate with them. In rescuing a crippled horse from being euthanized, he says "You don’t throw a life away just ’cause he’s banged up a bit."
And then, there’s Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire), abandoned as a youth by a family that could no longer afford to raise him, he’s knocked about for years as a jockey and sometime boxer. He seems unable to get along peaceably with his peers, and trainer Smith sees a similarity with him and the unruly horse named Seabiscuit.
In order to understand this horse, and these people, it’s necessary to have some understanding of the times in which they live, so the film has been framed with documentary footage, and narrated by the familiar voice of T.V. historian David McCullough. The problem, of course, is finding enough time to fit in all of the life stories, and the documentary, and still have time for us to get to know this horse a little bit. Hey, it is his story!!
Red Pollard, as it happens, is just the right jockey for Seabiscuit, and they complete the winning team. Then, things move along at a pretty rapid pace, and before you know it, Seabiscuit is the hero of the people-at least the people of the West and Mid-west. Time now for him to challenge that great horse of the east, War Admiral, and to be taken seriously by the unbelievers of Pimlico race track. But more tragedy lays ahead, and lots more learning by the handlers of this truly amazing steed.
The movie was a little less than expected for me, but still satisfying in most respects, and one that will appeal to people of many ages as a heartwarming story of three men and a horse who work together to achieve more than they ever dreamed of, and at a time in history when dashed dreams seemed to be the order of the day. Seabiscuit is now showing at the Showplace West in Bloomington, and reviewing the movies for WFIU, I’m Joe Bourne.