Friday 21 August 2015


(Gary Ross, 2003)

The choice of David McCullough - his voice probably best known from a variety of Ken Burns' documentaries - as narrator is instructive about Gary Ross' aims for this film, and also about its flaws. The first act - and brief passages later on - is dominated by McCullough's narration over black and white photographs of the period. This was real, Ross seems to be telling us, this is important. This is no silly made-up story. This matters.
The story of the rise of the champion US racehorse Seabiscuit explicitly treats him as a metaphor for America itself during the great depression, seemingly taking a tip from the horse's owner (played here by Jeff Bridges) who publicised him as the horse of the people, an underdog who represented the way every American has a second chance.
That first act is problematic - Seabiscuit takes a long time getting to its actual story, so busy is it with context and background. After that, Ross hits a series of classical, reliable old beats. This film is handsome - too handsome in a rich, oaken way for a film set partly during the depression - has a classy score, courtesy of Randy Newman, a great cast, all of whom are good; and doesn't miss out on any sports movie cliches at all. So there are slow-motion climaxes, disappointments at crucial junctures, last minute comebacks, personal demons resolved through sporting effort, etc etc.
It works in the way that such films always work. Those cliches are so popular entirely because of their efficiency. But that is somewhat at odds with the straining for seriousness of the documentary passages.
And the closing narration, courtesy of Maguire, about fixing each other, is an embarrassment.

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