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A long shot becomes a legend.  

Year: 2003 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 (Scope) 
Certificate: BBFC PG Cert – Parental guidance 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  
An image from Seabiscuit

Set in Depression-era America, Seabiscuit is an engaging, part-fictionalised account of an unlikely equine hero achieving enormous success and celebrity at a time when the nation was at its lowest ebb.  However, perhaps one of the best things about this superb piece of cinematic story-telling is that it is not, essentially, a film about a horse.


It begins slowly but absorbingly, introducing the lives of three characters whose fortunes will become inextricably bound to those of Seabiscuit.  Jeff Bridges plays owner Charles Howard, a long-established and extremely successful car dealer whose business is surviving the Depression.  However, his life begins to disintegrate into guilt and despair when his son is killed in a car crash.  Trainer Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) is a former cowboy now struggling to find work, who is forced into a series of casual jobs and finally drawn to the racetrack.  And Tobey Maguire is ideally suited to the role of educated, middle-class jockey Red Pollard, who turns, out of desperation, to racing and prizefighting when his father is financially ruined by the Wall Street crash.  So, the scene is set for these scarred and damaged men to meet and form restorative, symbiotic relationships with Seabiscuit, a difficult and undersized horse with massive potential.


Director Gary Ross summons particularly strong performances from Bridges, Cooper and Maguire, and while the casting offers no surprises, each seems so comfortable in his role that film-goers enjoy an impressively smooth, coherent experience.  Special mention must be made of Maguire, who displays a new-found maturity in the easy balance he strikes between the warmth and humour of Pollard and his contrasting moments of tragedy.


Unlike many films described as ‘inspirational’, Seabiscuit rarely strays towards sentimentality.  Instead it works at creating a hugely appealing sense of nostalgia; quite an achievement for a movie set in one of the gloomiest periods of America’s history.  The cinematography is striking, and makes full use of the dynamism of the film’s settings.  The race sequences themselves are astonishingly intense and involving, even for those with little or no interest in the equestrian world.


So, not a film about a horse, not a dry, factual slice of American history and not a sugary, insubstantial fairytale.  Simply a great evening’s entertainment.



Helen Carney

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Screenings of this film:

2003/2004 Spring Term (35mm)
2003/2004 Spring Term (35mm)