Seabiscuit (2003) dir. Gary Ross
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Banks
Americans and their horses, a key relationship in the history of the country – a metaphor of strength, speed and endurance, as well as the taming of the wildness of the western frontier. Gary Ross melodramatically dramatizing this in his mythological telling of the true story of Seabiscuit, the horse that captured the spirit of the American people during the hard times of the Great Depression.
All creative elements are working on the highest levels, specifically Gary Ross, who ignites America’s love of the grandioseness of its patriotic stories. The opening act tells three parallel stories of it’s three lead characters before we even see Seabiscuit. There’s Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), an enthusiastic entrepreneur/promoter who sold Buicks, struck it rich and then became the financial backer of the horse's training. There’s Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), a rugged outdoorsman and pseudo horse whisperer who finds and trains the legendary horse; and Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire) the half blind abandoned trouble-maker who rides Seabiscuit to glory.
And of course there’s Seabiscuit himself, who is portrayed as its own character, with dramatic hurdles to surmount and character arcs to complete. Like Red Biscuit’s the runt of the litter, a small horse, with a gimp leg, unwanted by everyone and who manages to triumph over adversity.
It would seem all of this was too contrived even for Hollywood, but no, it’s all true, apparently following very closely to Laura Hillenbrand’s book. Gary Ross and his key creatives set the scene with impeccable period detail. The 1930’s Great Depression is the background, providing the context as to why the underdog story of horse and rider captured the emotion of the country. Old B&W period stills combined with David McCullough’s documentary-like narration set the tone perfectly. All other creative departments follow this lead.
The key set pieces in the film are the astonishingly photographed race sequences. Using a variety of creative camera angles, and cleverly hidden practical effects, Ross and DOP John Schwartzman (half brother of Jason, and thus, part of the Coppola family) make each race as intense as putting you on the horse. I couldn't help be reminded of the great "Ben Hur" chariot scene. The heavy sounds of horse hooves pounding the ground and the almost infinite camera angles used by the filmmakers marrying these two films together.
Perhaps the American mythologization of sport and metaphor for life is laid on a bit too thick. But going by Gary Ross’s previous work as writer of “Big” and writer/director of “Pleasantville” it fits in well with Ross’s view of storybook view of life and history. Enjoy.
“Seabiscuit” is available on Blu-Ray from Universal Studios Home Entertainment