Movie Review

 

Seabiscuit movie poster

Seabiscuit

Production Company: Universal
Director: Gary Ross
Principals: Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper
Rating: PG-13 (sexual situations, violent sports-related images)

By Gregg Tubbs

(UMC.org) -- The year is 1936, and America, deep in the grip of the Great Depression, needs a hero. That hero appears in the unlikeliest form – a knobby kneed, undersized, cantankerous racehorse named Seabiscuit. Before his career is through, he becomes a symbol of hope for America’s downtrodden, and so beloved that he eclipsed President Roosevelt in popularity polls.

seabiscuit
Based on Laura Hillenbrand's dynamic 2001
book, Seabiscuit tells the true story of a little
horse with a big heart. © Universal Pictures,
2003
Based on Laura Hillenbrand's dynamic 2001 book, Seabiscuit tells the true story of a little horse with a big heart. This old-fashioned, well crafted piece of cinematic story-telling wears its heart on its sleeve, in a way that fits its openly emotional tale. Instead of explosions and car crashes, Seabiscuit hinges on stellar performances from Tobey Maguire, Chris Cooper and Jeff Bridges, and a compelling, believable story that brings to life the tumultuous world of thoroughbred racing in the 1930’s.  

Just like the cracker he was named for, Seabiscuit’s early racing career was flat and bland. The only talent he showed was for sleeping and eating. Judged as “plain lazy” he was ridden and beaten to the point of collapse. As you’ve probably guessed, like “Rocky” with hooves, this underdog eventually proves himself a champion. But the film gives us three other heroes to root for. Seabiscuit’s owner, automobile magnate Charles Howard (Bridges), is heartbroken over the death of his son in a car crash and has turned his back on life. Tom Smith (Cooper), the horse’s trainer, is a relic from the old west. His understanding of horses is uncanny, but he is dismissed by the horseracing community as a crackpot, and unable to find an owner who will trust him with a horse. Johnny “Red” Pollard (McGuire) is an oversized jockey on such a losing streak that he’s reduced to sleeping in horse stalls. All three had bottomed out. Then came Seabiscuit.

seabiscuit
Seabiscuit gives us three human heroes
to root for, Seabiscuit’s owner, Charles
Howard; Tom Smith, the trainer; and Johnny
“Red” Pollard, the oversized jockey.
© Universal Pictures, 2003
When Smith first sees the colt, he’s a shambles, sick in mind and body and so rebellious that he was practically unrideable. But he sees something others don’t, a feisty competitor, who’s been knocked down and just needs a helping hand to get back on his feet. When the four lost-causes come together, owner, horse, trainer and finally jockey, we witness a testament to perseverance and shared faith that gives the film its heart and soul. With no one else to believe in them, they choose to believe in each other, standing firm in the face of ridicule, long odds, racing establishment snobbery and simple bad luck. The satisfaction in Seabiscuit comes as much from the rehabilitation of its characters’ spirits as it does from its thrilling racetrack victories.

In the film, as in real life, “the Biscuit” became a metaphor for America’s working class that had been knocked down repeatedly by the economic depression, but refused to quit. Downtrodden Americans saw themselves in the little horse who wouldn’t quit and with each victory, gained hope that they too would prevail. Perseverance and the renewal of hope are among the many themes that run through this multifaceted film. The Bible frequently cites perseverance as a quality Christians need, to overcome the hardships they may face (see Heb. 10:30, Rom. 5:4).

The reciprocal nature of helping others is also affirmed. It’s often said that when you help someone in need you get back more than you give. In the film, the three main human characters all seem focused on saving their promising but broken-down horse. In fact, it was the other way around. As Pollard recalls in the closing moments, “We all thought we were saving him, but in the end, he saved us.”

seabiscuit
The satisfaction in Seabiscuit comes as
much from the rehabilitation of its
characters’ spirits as it does from its thrilling
racetrack victories. © Universal Pictures,
2003
The film’s deepest message is summed up by Smith, who early on is caring for an injured horse that will obviously never race again. Howard asks him why he wastes his time on this lost cause. Smith replies, “Every horse is good for something. You don’t throw a life away just because it’s banged up a bit.” Howard understands, and uses the same argument later when urged to get rid of Pollard after the jockey’s error costs them a critical race. Seabiscuit’s message is: don’t give up on yourself or on others. Every horse or person is, as Smith said, “good for something.”  Sometimes they just need one more chance.

Jesus himself paid particular attention to the outcast, sick and sinful, curing their ills and healing their souls (See Luke 19:1-9). He saw the potential beneath their surface, making apostles of a tax collector like Matthew and an adversarial Pharisee like Paul. This same affirmation of the intrinsic worth of each person, no matter what their condition or status, anchors Seabiscuit and ultimately makes it soar. 

Gregg Tubbs is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Maryland.

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