The beginning of Seabiscuit paints a perfect image of America from the invention of the automobile, the progress of the assembly line, through the roaring twenties and then plunging into the devastation of the depression. The idea of people packing what’s left of their lives in their car, their last possession, the very invention that changed the world within their lifetime, never made such an impact on me until I saw it all connected in Seabiscuit. Right away, I knew this would be more than an inspirational horse story.
In the depression, everyone is down, especially the people surrounding the infamous horse. Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire) is from a large family, but during the depression they were financially ruined and left Red to reach for this potential to become a jockey. Problem is, Red is too tall to be a jockey, so he purges regularly to maintain weight. He also falls into a rough lifestyle, participating in illegal boxing matches for money. Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) has built himself up from a humble bicycle repairman to the most successful car salesman in California, but when he suddenly loses his only son, his life and marriage crumbles. Then there is Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), a horse trainer who has lived a very simple life among wild mustangs, but realizes his world is shrinking. He’s the one who first sees potential in Seabiscuit.
From previews, we assume the challenge is for Seabiscuit to win races and prove everyone he’s the little horse with a big jockey who could. There’s so much more than that and the whole downtrodden feel of the depression only amplifies the sense of victory. There is a point where it seems like Red and Seabiscuit are on top of the world, but when tragedies occur there’s more to fight for than winning. Yes, double trouble to put both jockey and horse in traction, I was nearly heartbroken.
It’s impossible not to see how Red’s and Seabiscuit’s young lives parallel each other. They both have been trained or breaded for great potential, but never given the chance to succeed. Red was well educated and loved, but now has a good amount of abandonment issues and has to fight harder than most jockeys because of his size. When Seabiscuit’s story is told, in sort of a storybook feel, we learn that he was bread to be a race horse, but is too small. Instead he is trained to lose to other horses in order to build their self esteem. When he is finally raced, he loses, just as he was trained to.
I found myself getting really into the races. The rhythm of hooves thundering flinging dirt, the rivalries that start in the gate and intensify until the photo finish. The mix of closeup images and quick editing help make every race extremely exciting. I found myself cheering on Seabiscuit from my couch half the time.
If you’ve got a little girl going through her pony phase, this may not be the best film for her. Her childhood fantasies may be filled with rainbows, tea parties and braiding the horses mane. Seabiscuit is a horse so beaten down by the world, he’s just pissed and wants an opportunity. I doubt a little girl would really understand or appreciate that. And later in the film, she may just cry knowing how badly her precious pony is hurt. It’s rated PG-13 with good reason.
“You know, you don’t throw a whole life away just ’cause he’s banged up a little.”