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Seabiscuit (2003)

A long shot becomes a legend

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 141 minutes

UK Certificate: PG

It’s hard to believe now, but back in 1938 the top headline-grabber in America was a ridiculously small racehorse called Seabiscuit. In a time of depression, it was this horse that captured the public’s imagination and gave a nation something to cheer for. Now, 65 years later, it’s threatening to do the same thing, only this time with cinema audiences.

Adapted from Laura Hillenbrand’s book, ‘Seabiscuit’ stars Jeff Bridges as the charming car salesman-turned-horse owner Charles Howard, Chris Cooper as reclusive trainer Tom Smith, and Tobey Maguire as bulimic over-sized jockey Red Pollard (he’s also ginger, hence the moniker). Together, the three of them take a short, fat, limping, wheezing, bad-tempered (he’s fed up of all the “why the long face?” jokes) horse and turn it into an athlete, and much more besides.

Director Gary Ross, who also directed Maguire in 1998’s ‘Pleasantville’, brings us one of those rare tales that manages to combine some distinctly Oscar-geared elements with some good old fashioned crowd-pleasing. It’s as uplifting a tale as you’ll see in theatres this year, and manages to do it all without resorting to bullet-time FX, random displays of martial arts or big budget explosions. If you’re looking for proof that there’s still a market for such “traditional” output, then this is it.

What’s more, I cannot fault the performances of any of the actors, including real-life jockey Gary Stevens who makes his acting debut as Red’s good friend and fellow rider George Woolf. There’s also a nice comic turn from William H. Macy as self-consciously zany radio presenter “Tick Tock” McLaughlin.

The one crucial criticism I have of the film is that, at well over two hours, it’s far too long. Much of the historical background info thrown into the mix is wholly unnecessary, and there are parts that drag on for much longer than they need to (particularly the extremely slow opening 20 minutes, which had me thinking I was in for one of the year’s biggest bore-fests). But hopefully that won’t spoil for too many people what is largely a very enjoyable movie experience.

If, like me, you’ve never really seen what the big deal is with horse racing, don’t fret. There’s a formula here which could really be applied – and at one time or another probably has been – to practically any sport of your choice. The difference here is that you’re watching a true story unfold, which straight away makes this little horse’s achievements infinitely more impressive than anything the finest minds in Hollywood could dream up.

It's Got: A horse that can sign autographs, and a flying goat.

It Needs: To be significantly shorter.


Overly-lengthy, but nonetheless rewarding if you’re willing to stick with it.