Seabiscuit (2003)

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, William H Macy, Elizabeth Banks

Directed by: Gary Ross

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Tobey Maguire as Red Pollard puts Seabiscuit through his paces

If it weren't for the fact that Seabiscuit is based on a true story, I'd have thought that the Americans made the whole thing up deliberately in order to make me hate their president a little less. Just a couple of hours after swearing at Bush on the telly as British targets are bombed in Turkey and 200,000 anti-war protesters crowd the streets of London, I find myself on the verge of tears at this shamelessly sentimental depiction of the American Dream, where every loser has a chance to win, if only they're prepared to give it a shot. Etc.

Seabiscuit was the little horse who, against all odds, romped home to victory and into the hearts of ordinary Americans during the dark days of the Depression. Just in case we don't realise quite how dark those days were, the film is interspersed with documentary-style black and white footage relating the history of the Wall Street Crash and its consequences, which, although interesting, does seem slightly intrusive - hell, we've all seen The Waltons, we know the '30s were tough - but at least it dispenses with the need for any heavy-handed 'oh dear isn't the Depression awful' dialogue to set the scene.

Jeff Bridges with the real star of the show

In a nutshell, Seabiscuit is a film about broken people who together find new hope. 'Rags to riches' automobile tycoon Charles Matthews (Jeff Bridges) is broken by the loss of his son, killed in an accident early in the film; jockey Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire) is a victim of the riches to rags effect of the Depression, descending from a comfortable family home to a desperate hand to mouth existence brawling and riding, despite being about twice the height of your average jockey, whilst Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) is the wise old horse whisperer who has spent his life on the road, and who believes that 'you don't throw a life away because it's a little broken.'

And then of course there's Seabiscuit, the undersized, abused horse with issues, who has a big heart and a big need to prove himself. Needless to say the track to the finishing line is not a smooth one: midway through the film both Red and Seabiscuit are seriously injured. will they heal in time to win one final race? I won't spoil it for you, but suffice it to say that Seabiscuit's one last shot doesn't come from a gun. Phew!

The race is on...

The pace of the film is gentle, a slow canter even, giving us time to get to know and learn to love the characters. Jeff Bridges is dignified as Charles Matthews, staunchly championing the cause of the underdog and refusing to sacrifice his belief in the endless possibilities of the American Dream, whilst Chris Cooper is so convincing you actually forget he's an actor and start to believe they've just drafted in a real horse whisperer instead. Tobey Maguire does his usual goofy, gangly act as outsized jockey Red, the ever reliable William H Macy turns in a stellar comic performance as crazy racing pundit Tick Tock McGlaughlin whilst Gary Stevens as all round good guy jockey George Woolf bears a striking resemblance to our very own Frankie Detori.

But the real star of the picture, and by far its most lovable character, is of course the horse. Little Seabiscuit is awfully endearing, and the relationship between horse and jockey is one of the most moving aspects of the film, avoiding the overt sentimentality of some of the American Dream scenes.

A heart warming film that leaves you with a satisfied inner glow, Seabiscuit is never going to make me like George Bush, but it certainly makes me feel a little better disposed to our transatlantic cousins. Definitely not to be missed.

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