by MaxPower

I watched this movie from the cozy confines of 35,000 feet, on a flight that was two hours late due to weather and mechanical difficulties. What would adequately describe my state of mind? Bored – and in need of distraction, SeaBiscuit was it. It was either that or re-read the in-flight magazine. Starring Toby Maguire and Jeff Bridges it is a story that takes place in 1930’s ‘depression-era’ America. It is and I quote “the tale of a feisty but injured racehorse that learns to be a winner, transforming not only himself but all the two-legged beings who believed in him.” Awww, isn’t that touching, it’s an underdog’s underdog type of movie. The too-tall jockey who is blind in one eye (who later is a cripple on top of everything) couples with the crazy old trainer and the eccentric owner to try to win with a thoroughbred horse who was ‘trained to lose’. The main part of the first half of the movie was SeaBiscuit’s drive for respect. This respect comes from the major racing circuits in the US, which of course at the time were wholly concentrated on the Eastern seaboard. It’s got some good anti-Western thought coming from the arrogant Easterners (from New York this time) who discount everything that happens in the Western US just because its not in the East and in the centre of the universe (the US universe that is). So SeaBiscuit needs to overcome those trials to become a champion.

It is pretty much all you could ask for in an underdog movie. The formulaic plotline notwithstanding, it’s hard not to cheer for the underdog, cheer on the horse, and feel good when the horse really comes around and starts to win. Even if it is terrifically obvious that this will indeed happen. Not that the movie makers could do anything about it being obvious, when the movie came out there were newspaper articles devoted to detailing SeaBiscuit’s career in the ’30’s and they all focused how he was underdog champion. As such, there really isn’t even a moment in the movie where you don’t think it was going to work out, and this horse just won’t win. That steals some of the dramatic thunder from the slow-mo race sequences.

Hollywood has come a long way in computer graphics and the ability to create scenes out of nothing, but apparently they can’t make a horse race (from the jockey’s point of view) look realistic. When Maguire rode in races, we get a supremely fake looking horse head bobbing up and down. Then a cut scene to an ‘actual race’ where you notice that in actuality the horses head barely moves at all. You would think they could have done a ‘jockey-cam’ or something. As a point, there was two seconds of ‘jockey-cam’ footage at the end of the movie but there is no reason why more of the racing sequences could have been more convincingly done. Really, I don’t need to see Toby Maguire’s face (in the close-up cut shots), rather the horse is the real athlete there, and as one of the characters in the movie said, the jockey is just ‘baggage’.

Another thing I found surprising was that apparently jockeys are bulimic, prone to violence during races and also like to make conversation with other jockeys while the race is on. This surprise was akin to when Homer Simpson found out jockeys were actually evil elf-like denizens of a netherworld. But that’s a cartoon, and this is a movie, presupposing to be based on a ‘true story’. (Apparently, SeaBiscuit was voted one of the top 10 newsmakers of 1938 behind Roosevelt, Neville Chamberlain and Hitler.) The end of the movie kind of ruined it for me, too schmaltzy, a typical Hollywood ending, which was too bad because I actually enjoyed the majority of the movie. Maybe that was the dehydration or the oxygen depravation but I’d give it 3 out of 5, which is definitely better than I would have thought it would be from the previews and reviews when the movie first came out.

  • SeaBiscuit
  • by MaxPower
  • Published on January 1st, 2004
Gary Ross
Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper
6 / 10

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