Must Hear Music
Reviews Archives
Bargain Basement
Music DVD
Send Us Mail
Contact Us

Seabiscuit (PG-13)
Universal Pictures
Official Site
Director: Gary Ross
Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Gary Ross, Frank Marshall, Jane Sindell
Written by: Gary Ross (screenplay); Laura Hillenbrand (book)
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, Tobey Maguire

Rating: out of 5

Generally speaking, if your film is about the Great Depression, you are going to have to show poor people to get your point across. And yet Seabiscuit, the new megastar feel-good movie, attempts to omit just that detail. Director Gary Ross tries to finesse this absence with a few tasteful, historical photos of poor people in cars going west, poor people with new jobs created by Roosevelt, and then, Roosevelt himself smiling and shaking hands with the poor. It’s all so bourgeoisie. Despite the narrator’s (David McCullough) obvious attempts to connect Seabiscuit to the hopes and dreams of the millions of downtrodden, they are relegated to an out-of-sight, out-of-mind status. But then again the rest of the film is hardly a vast improvement.

Seabiscuit is the story of a racehorse that won an important match race and the Santa Anita during the 1930s, but you wouldn’t know that from the introduction. The first 30 minutes deserve to be completely cut. A parade of montages slowly and painfully tell the stories of the three major characters’ lives while employing a storybook narrator to keep it all historical perspective. Tom Smith (Cooper) is the Cormac McCarthy-type cowboy; Red Pollard (Maguire) is the failed wreck of a jockey; and Richard Howard (Bridges) is the rich philanthropist who has buried his son. None of the information conveyed in any of these scenes feels genuine, partly because they’re poorly acted and shot, and partly because the whole half hour is a series of brief—but not brief enough—cutaways. Howard’s son suddenly appears dead on screen. Pollard’s parents abandon him in a 30-second cliché. Smith has no backstory but the director feels inclined to waste our time by showing his character in dramatic scenery, repeatedly. And then, another 15 minutes pass before the three characters even meet. The movie might have been much more rewarding had it begun with the characters and then conveyed their stories through, you know, acting. Instead, characters are restricted from interacting with each other as much as possible. They stand around and deliver lines out to the audience like a high school play while trying desperately to avoid eye contact with the others. Perhaps Maguire, Cooper, and Bridges are just indicating the shame they feel from the work turned in here. Despite past accolades, all of them sleepwalk through their roles.

What’s interesting is that Gary Ross’s last movie, Pleasantville, featured a cast and crew with enough similarities to call the two films stepsisters. Ross directed and wrote both; Randy Newman scored both; Tobey Maguire and William H. Macy starred in both. However, while Pleasantville gets to be Cinderella, Seabiscuit is both of her snotty, older sisters combined. That movie had a variety of tonal and thematic similarities but was carried out with all the grace and charm that this film lacks. With voiceovers from both a narrator and Tobey Maguire, Seabiscuit feels insecure about communicating its important redemption message, and so we are mercilessly beaten over the skull by dialogue that explicitly tells us that the horse is here to save us from poverty and economic crisis.

There are small touches of genuine filmmaking that go a little way towards, ahem, redeeming the movie. Macy revels in his role as the radio announcer, Tick Tock McGlaughlin, and manages to move the plot while making the audience chuckle. Maguire and real-life horse jockey Gary Stevens make an interesting pair of competitors and friends. Newman’s score and John Schwartzmann’s cinematography, both loud and obvious, stir the heart nonetheless. And every once in a while, one of the main stars delivers a line that reminds you why he’s a star, but then has to duck his head so someone can belt out a one-liner made for the trailer.

—Zack Schenkkan


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

It’s worth a full-price ticket.

It’s worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

Mike Doughty

none now

South By Southwest 2014
David DeVoe

South By Southwest 2013
David DeVoe

Red Hook Music Festival
George Dow

SXSW 2012
David DeVoe

Our Favorite Records 2011
Hybrid Staff

Rachel Fredrickson

Rachel Fredrickson

Warped Tour 2011
Rachel Fredrickson

Eddie Spaghetti
Melissa Skrbic-Huss

Murder By Death
Mike DeLeo

Mike Doughty
Boulder, CO

Denver, CO

Imagine Dragons
Denver, CO

Cambridge, MA

Young Magic
Denver, CO

Warped Tour 2012
Denver, CO

Denver, CO

Mike Doughty
Denver, CO

Kansas City, MO

Other Lives
Lawrence, KS

Los Campesinos
Boston, MA

The Civil Wars
Lawrence, KS

Ha Ha Tonka
Lawrence, KS

Lawrence, KS

hybridmagazine.com is updated daily except when it isn't.
New film reviews are posted every week like faulty clockwork.
Wanna write for hybrid? Send us an e-mail.
© 1996-2009 [noun] digital media. All rights reserved worldwide. All content on hybridmagazine.com and levelheadedmusic.com is the intellectual property of Hybrid Magazine and its respective creators. No part of hybridmagazine.com or levelheadedmusic.com may be reproduced in any format without expressed written permission. For complete masthead and physical mailing address, Click Here.