Seabiscuit is based on the book “Seabiscuit - An American Legend” by Laura Hillenbrand, which was itself a beautiful, lyrical look at the true story of the race horse who ran in depression era America. However, like the book this is much more than a dry retelling of the simple facts, this is a stunning and emotional piece of work that recounts the tale from the perspectives of three broken men, and a broken country. Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) a successful car dealer loses his son in tragic circumstances. Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) is a cowboy out of touch with modern living, who is discarded and displaced when technology moves out west, and Red Pollard (Toby Maguire) is an angry young man, abandoned by his parents, who ekes out a living as a bare knuckle fighter (for which he is too small) and a jockey for hire (for which he is too big). The horse itself is also a reject. Labelled as too small, with a wheeze, and a limp he was only considered good enough to perform as a training partner for bigger, stronger horses where he was taught to deliberately lose in order to give confidence to the other horse. Through chance and good fortune these four flawed characters came together to create sporting history, and in helping to heal each others wounds, assisted in the recovery of a nation.
Director Gary Ross (Pleasantville) has worked hard to reproduce the feel of the book. The movie takes its time to establish the characters and the era. He effectively uses black and white pictures and voice over in frequent photomontages that evoke the time and setting wonderfully. The racing scenes are spectacular, placing the viewer right in the middle of the action. The cinematography is dazzling with wide desert vistas, lush green meadows, and rich oak lined interiors so clearly captured you can almost smell it. To round it all off star turns by all three main characters draw you into the story so completely that I guarantee you will be willing them on to success. A quick mention must go to William H. Macy as Tick Tock McGlaughlin the course announcer and David McCullough, whose rich, warm narration is delightfully evocative.
This is a magnificent uplifting experience with the same life affirming qualities of “Shawshank Redemption” and the fact that it was true only enhances the enjoyment. If it weren't for the all-conquering Peter Jackson and his Rings and Kings saga this would be my tip for best director and movie at this years Oscars. It still may be worth an outside bet. After all Seabiscuit has overcome greater odds than this in the past.