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:: Seabiscuit

Some readers well remember the movie from 1949 titled “The Story of Seabiscuit”, which starred Shirley Temple and little Irishman, Barry Fitzgerald. It was a wonderfully warm movie that touched many hearts. The story has been relived, adapted from Laura Hillenbrand’s book, and is simply titled “Seabiscuit”. This was the small horse that came into the life of Americans in a time of depression during the 1930s. He captured the public’s imagination, rather like what the great Phar Lap did for Australians.

The captivating thing about this film is the simple and effective method in how the director, Gary Ross, goes about telling the story. Already it has been a breath of fresh air to US audiences who could do with less “slap bang whoosh” in their movie releases, than what’s been served up. It’s not a piece of history that Americans should forget – the underdog that rose above the ordinary to become a legend. Here was a short, limping, lazy horse whose early performances were quite unspectacular. But the film shows the horse, along with three main characters, engender a spirit that is endearing. The rider was Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire), the wealthy owner was Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), who turned his interest from cars to horse racing, and there was Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) as the caring horse trainer.

All had bad luck during their lives yet, with great determination to succeed and redeem their lives, pull through triumphantly. The film is an interesting mix of drama and documentary, using the images of the 1930s. The camera work is thrilling throughout in capturing the racing moments. The dynamic images puts us right into the race. Gary Ross uses the eccentric radio and newsreel announcer, Tick Tock McGlaughlin (William H. Macy) to keep the story working along. He gives us a sense of how Seabiscuit captured people’s hearts in a rough time in history.

You feel the whole journey with Seabiscuit – hoping he’d rise from obscurity and accomplish more than could be dreamed of. The scenes are marvellous surrounding his race with a champion horse called War Admiral.

The casting for Seabiscuit is inspired. The director goes to great trouble in developing the lead characters, played expertly by Bridges, Cooper, and Maguire. A good performance is also put in by Gary Stevens as George “The Iceman” Woolf. Stevens hadn’t even acted previously. Instead, he is a jockey who proved to be a great one. He shows much charisma.

“Seabiscuit” is the stuff of the classic underdog stories and is inspirational. It does justice to the characters of the time. Gary Ross has pulled at our heartstrings and the power of storytelling shows how big this horse was in giving Americans something to be excited about.

Screening on general release