Friday, December 30, 2016
July 2003, U.S.
Even before SEABISCUIT gets settled into its story of the legendary Thoroughbred race horse and how he came to unexpected success as a huge media sensation, the film begins with a portrait of America and its potential for greatness at the start of the 20th Century with the advent of the automobile and the progression of society surrounding it and other innovations in science and technology. It was truly the land of great opportunity and possibilities for those who were brave enough to take risks and put their best foot forward. This portrait of America is also told through some great sweeping cinematic shots of its colorful landscapes and horses racing across the terrain that would have made a man like John Ford proud.
Jeff Bridges as Charles Howard, in a role that greatly echoes his character as Preston Tucker in Francis Ford Coppola's TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM (1988), is a simple man starting out as a bicycle repairman and inevitably working his way over the years into retailing very fine automobiles and obtaining great wealth. America's greatness, however, was soon to come crashing down during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Through black and white still photographs, we get an unsettling look and feeling of how what was once so great could become so destitute. One family, in particular, suffers greatly as their once affluent household of riches becomes a life of living on the streets and scrounging for whatever money they can earn to eat. The oldest son of this family, Red Pollard (played by Toby Maguire) is a boy raised by his father on the great works of literature and poetry. He's also a boy with a gift as a skillful jockey. Such a gift however, cannot save his family from abandoning him in order that he can be raised by an employer with some money and a house. For those of us who can never truly know what it must have been like for families during such a harsh time in American history, even watching a young boy get torn apart from his parents in an act of desperation is truly gut-wrenching, even in a movie.
These two primary characters of the film, along with the lone cowboy and horse trainer Tom Smith (played by Chris Cooper) shall inevitably come together to rise above their hard times and sorrows through their association with the horse known as Seabiscuit. The horse, like so many other underdogs of the movies, is an overlooked and undersized character that no one believes in, except those who have been just as badly beaten through life as he has. Not too unlike Robert Redford's character in THE HORSE WHISPERER (1998), Red's sensitivity (even through his constant anger) to Seabiscuit is apparent as he is not only able to tame the great animal, but inspire him, as well, when it comes to displaying his true spirit during the many big races they run together.
Like many sports dramas that propel our spirits to great heights, there's always "the big one" in the end that will determine everything. In SEABISCUIT, however, there are two. The first big race is a match race between only Seabiscuit and the reigning horse champion of America known as "War Admiral". Well, I'm sure you can guess who wins. Even after the big victory, though, the story is still not over. Both Seabiscuit and Red suffer serious injuries and must both bounce back together to overcome the physical challenges. They learn to walk again, ride again and win again...together. The film's final message being, I suppose, those that suffer together can ultimately fix each other, too (makes sense).
As an actor, Toby Maguire has always puzzled me. In one sense, he can repeatedly come off as a truly wimpy type of person (think Peter Parker before his Spider-Man powers!) with no balls or backbone. Is that simply the nature of his repeated roles or just the man's personality, in general. There's there's that other side of him that provokes one into thinking he's not the sort of person who want to mess around with. Does the Jekyll/Hyde persona make such a man more interesting or more confusing? I'm still not sure. Jeff Bridges, of course, soars as he always has throughout his great career in a mixture of emotional states and boundaries that include grieving father and inspirational mentor. Chris Cooper, unlike his brutal role in AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999), is a far more sensitive creature who's personal suffering is unclear to us. He's a loner who prefers to spend his time on his own terms sleeping outdoors under the stars. Is he a man who suffered personal loss or is he simply trying to quietly survive the ravages of the Great Depression? We're never quite sure because the film doesn't clearly tell us. We simply accept him as a man who can help others heal, including a horse. And in the end, it's the horse who can help heal America.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Red Pollard (narrating): "You know, everyone thinks that we found this broken down horse and fixed him, but we didn't. He fixed us. Every one of us. And I guess in a way, we kinda fixed each other, too."