2003-08-15 / Columnists

MovieScope By Robert Snyder ‘Seabiscuit’ - Rocky As A Racehorse

MovieScope By Robert Snyder ‘Seabiscuit’ - Rocky As A Racehorse

MovieScope By Robert Snyder
‘Seabiscuit’ - Rocky As A Racehorse


What "Rocky" did for beating-the-odds boxing, "Seabiscuit" is doing for horseracing. At the sold-out Rockville Centre Fantasy Theater recently, the audience roared with approval as the legendary underdog darling of the Great Depression galloped to greatness in race after race. In fact, at the finale, more than a few tears were shed.

As he was in the 1930’s, Seabiscuit is the lift that everyone is looking for
during a down-and-out era. Based on the Laura Hillenbrand bestseller, writer-director Gary Ross ("Pleasantville" has created an epic movie that is sure to become a classic. It is about how an abused, gimpy undersized racehorse connects with three human losers to form an equation for success.

In his day, Seabiscuit pulled in more headlines than FDR and Hitler. Inter-cut with old newsreel footage and photos, Ross’s film first follows the falls of assembly line worker-turned-millionaire car dealer Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges): aging cowboy-horse whisperer Tom Smith (Chris Cooper); hot-tempered, oversized jockey Johnny "Red" Pollard (Tobey Maguire) and, of course, unloved, trained-to-lose horse Seabiscuit. During Prohibition when booze and gambling are forbidden, the horserace business heads south of the border. It is in Mexico that the fantastic four finally meet. But they were only fantastic when together, each recognizing talent invisible to everyone else.

Licking his wounds after the tragic death of his son, Howard has left the United States for a few weeks to get a quickie divorce. He spots Smith, who is considered an outcast, helping a limp horse. The intuitive trainer already has his eye on Seabiscuit, realizing that the key to the ornery colt is kindness.

Smith’s philosophy: "You can’t throw a whole life just because it’s a little beat up."

The same applies to Red Pollard. Sold into servitude by his financially devastated father, the gifted jockey is forced to fight in backwoods boxing bouts to survive. However, in the process, he loses sight in his right eye…a secret he keeps to himself. Speaking of secrets and eyes, another key to Seabiscuit is competitiveness. Smith senses that if the horse looks in the eye of a rival animal, it will spark his heart, light his fuse and send him running like hell.

This makes for spectacularly suspenseful and thrilling racing sequences, almost on a level with the chariot race in "Ben-Hur." "Seabiscuit" is a film with a heart as large as that of the horse whose story it tells. The performances are all Oscar caliber, particularly Bridge’s. He plays the embodiment of everything that’s good about America. Though silently suffering, he’s a powerfully positive man of the people, who markets the Seabiscuit phenomenon as a metaphor for the New Deal: Give people a second chance and watch them win.

The newly-crowned king of the West Coast horseracing, Howard has faith in Seabiscuit that knows no bounds, with him doggedly taunting the owner of the top horse on the East Coast, War Admiral. The uptight owner finally relents and the stage is set for a one-on-one race at his private track.

But, at the 11th hour, Red has serious accident, racking up his right leg. Yet, the show goes on with another jockey, George Woolf (real-life Hall of famer Gary Stevens). What follows is a wildly invigorating episode, with a touch of sadness as red listens on the radio from his hospital bed. It should be noted that William H. Macy has an hilarious time as radio sports broadcaster Tick-Tock McGlaughlin. With his handmade special effects and snappy one-liners, he provides an entertaining counterpart to the somber newsreel narration spoken by David McCullough. Macy is just one of many elements that makes the movie a marvel.

Don’t miss "Seabiscuit." It’s a winner.

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