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Seabiscuit: A Tribute to the Little Guy

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Gary Ross’ Seabiscuit is a predictable little movie about how the little guy wins. Literally.

The movie is a kind of docu-drama, presenting a mini-history of the booming 1920s and the aftereffects of the Depression in the 1930s. While I’m all for learning about history, I thought this was misplaced in a movie about a boy and his horse. The unintended effect was that it removed the movie from its sentimental story about particular human beings, and placed it on a historical, objective, and impersonal footing from the very beginning.

What added to the feeling of cold removedness was the fact that the director chose quick cuts to further the story line from the time of the booming 20s to the depression of the 30s. This kind of fast-forwarding certainly didn’t help the audience establish any meaningful connection with the characters. As a result, when we finally get to the movie’s present time, we may know an awful lot about the character’s histories, but nothing about who they really are.

I suppose the second half of the movie tries to acquaint us with who these characters really are. But it’s an awfully roundabout way of doing so. Indeed, the movie as a whole seemed rather slow on account of this.

Aside from these technical problems, Seabiscuit is like any other movie about the underdog (or underhorse, as the case may be) who wins in the end. However, the movie was probably a little better than the usual fare because of the solid performances by Tobey Maguire, and especially Chris Cooper. Coming off his Oscar-winning performance in Adaptation, Chris Cooper was remarkably restrained and self-disciplined as Tom Smith, the horse’s trainer. Both he and Tobey Maguire showed true empathy for the horse, thereby turning Seabiscuit into a character with its own idiosyncratic personality that the audience could appreciate on a more human level.

If this movie tells us anything, it’s that Chris Cooper is the supporting actor par excellence. Given that this role was in stark contrast to his stint as a toothless orchid thief in Adaptation, one can only marvel at what this man is capable of.

I’d give Gary Ross’ Seabiscuit a B-.

[Visit this author’s blog at Unfashionable Observations.]
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  • Eric Olsen

    Isn’t Tobey Maguire a little large to be playing a jockey?

  • http://www.well.com/~srhodes Steve Rhodes

    He did lose 35 pounds to play the role. He still was much heavier than jokeys should be, but I can’t think of many actors who are that skinny. Pollard was 5’7″ which was tall for a jockey, but Seabiscuit was required to carry so much weight that he could weigh more than most jockeys.

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I wrote about the documentary which is repeating on many PBS stations tonight (monday). It is also out on DVD.

    Still, I urge people to read the book first. There is so much more in the book.

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    i agree…the book rocks!.

    it’s one of the few non-fiction books i’ve read that flows like an action-adventure. great stuff.

  • http://www.howardowens.com Howard Owens

    As I said in my own post on the movie, I thought Jeff Bridge’s performance was outstanding. Cooper was good, too, but I really think Bridges deserves some award considerations.