Seabiscuit

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By Mark Ramsey | 2003/07/29

It was a time when the little guy was down, but not out. When prostitution was called “companionship.” A time when 85 million downtrodden Americans went to the movies every week and – just like today – nobody went to see Tomb Raider.

It’s a story of three people who are banged up but not broken and one particular knobby-kneed thoroughbred named Seabiscuit.

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Seabiscuit is a movie out of step with the gamer-oriented fare squeezed with sardine-like efficiency into multiplexes this summer. “Maybe they should have dubbed in Ray Romano’s voice for mine,” snorted a disgruntled Seabiscuit, as a Beverly Hills “Groomer to the Stars” gently brushed his mane.

Summer notwithstanding, here finally is a movie where winning and placing matter more than just showing.

This was the Depression. And it’s the big guy versus the little guy. The establishment versus the scruffy upstart. Seabiscuit illustrates moments of riotous victory against all odds punctuated by leisurely scenes of actors in profile, staring off into space, wondering where the Hell that soundtrack is coming from and when the Hell director Gary Ross is going to yell “cut!”

Seabiscuit is a small horse, standing about 15 hands, which is about 12 hands taller than Jeffrey Katzenberg.

“11 in my elevator shoes,” noted Jeffrey.

Ten horses played Seabiscuit throughout this movie, and coincidentally twelve actors played Chris Cooper!

Seabiscuit features an outstanding, award-worthy performance by Tobey Maguire. This guy is exactly one hit single, fragrance, and fashion line from real success. “Until Seabiscuit,” said Tobey, “my idea of a trifecta was me and the Hilton sisters in the coat room at SkyBar.”

This movie was, of course, inspired by the recent bestselling book of the same name. It’s always hazardous adapting bestsellers since the average moviegoer thinks “Borders” is what you cross to party in Tijuana.

Jeff Bridges is a starry-eyed dreamer selling Buicks until Seabiscuit saunters into his life, parks his horse’s ass on the couch, grabs the remote control, and turns to a stunned Jeff and whinnies “what?”

seabiscuit_orchestra.jpgI don’t know much about horse racing, but I know this: If Seabiscuit wins The Breeder’s Cup he’s certainly no viewer of the Bravo network.

(Think about it.)

William Macy makes an appearance or two as “Tick-Tock McGlaughlin,” an early pioneer of that most irritating of radio centerpieces, the wacky morning show. If Seabiscuit could run as fast as the spit zooms out of Bill’s mouth, every race would begin with a broken sound barrier.

“You can’t throw a life away just because it’s banged up a little,” says Chris Cooper who, as this movie labors to point out, speaks not only about the little horse, but also about all the huddled and hungry masses across the banged up land. For a nation full of heavy hearts, Seabiscuit was hope unbridled.

Take it from me: Seabiscuit will be the best two hours you spend at the movies this summer and maybe all year. I won’t say you’ll stand up and cheer because what fool would do that?

One thing never changing is our affection for the underdog who battles and beats the odds. But I got to thinking, what about the horses and trainers and owners and jockeys who don’t win, the ones who are overwhelmed and humbled by those odds but keep on running anyway? And what about the rest of us, banged up a little but not thrown away?

Seabiscuit is a great lesson for the fortunate few who can look back on their struggles from the winner’s circle. And it’s a comforting pat on the back for those who hope against hope that life’s Triple Crown is just over the next horse jump.

But somewhere out there in the silence between one frame and the next, in the margins of every tale of underdog derring-do, is another lesson – one my mother taught me: Do your best, always. And don’t give up.

Maybe there are no prize cups for you and me, no roaring crowds, no flashing bulbs, no winner’s circle, no swelling purse. But if the journey is its own reward, then here’s to those who kick up their heels and doggedly gallop down the stretch.


Photos Copyright ©2003 Universal Studios and DreamWorks

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