Seabiscuit (2003)

Rating: D

Dir: Gary Ross
Star: Jeff Bridges, Tobey Maguire, Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Banks

This is being touted as the antidote to the empty summer action movies…in which case, er, when’s the next empty summer action movie? Despite enormously good reviews, this has all the usual flaws of “true stories”, and quite a few of bad cinema. It’s the story of a horse, a trainer, a jockey and an owner, whom no-one believed had a chance, and there’s so much implausibility, you couldn’t make this stuff up. The fact that they didn’t, doesn’t really help: from a cinematic standpoint, it’s still too much to swallow. Ross unsubtly cuts between the horse and his jockey, both flailing around angrily, and if we see Seabiscuit going into a starting gate once, while Randy Newman’s score swells ponderously, we see it five times.

Bridges and Cooper, as owner and trainer, do their best with dialogue teetering to cliche, e.g. “sometimes when the little guy doesn’t know he’s the little guy, he can do big things”, and William H. Macy lends much-needed light relief, albeit in a role of near-irrelevance. Worst of all, the film continues for a hour after the true climax (a match-race against War Admiral); there’s not one, but two brave comebacks, in a wave of cloying sentimentality which threatens to swamp the largely okay performances. In this case, the truth hurts – and they never do explain what a seabiscuit is…