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Directed by Gary Ross.
Written by Gary Ross.  Based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand. 
Starring Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper.
Release Year:  2003 
Review Date:  7/22/03 


Note to cousin Ron “I Got Somethin’ You Can ‘SWAT’” Webster--I’ve got bad news for you.

The bad news for Ron and for those of you that would diss a movie right off the bat because it is about horses is, well, “Seabiscuit”--the new Gary Ross film based on the novel about the famed 1930s race horse--is actually a pretty damned good movie.  I didn’t want to believe that it was possible coming in, because I could give a shit about horses, but the movie hooked me early and thrilled me late, and I actually learned a thing or two about horse racing in the process.  There was even some applause in my audience opening day when the film ended.

How?  How was this possible?  Well, I think the best thing Ross does with his film is realize that 99% of Americans don’t give a shit about, he starts off by detailing the horse’s eventual owner, a West Coast Buick dealership owner named Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), and gives us an insight to his life and love of cars first to set up the story.  As we work through a timeline that begins in 1910 and works through The Great Depression, we get to meet the horse’s eventual jockey, Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire), and the trainer, Tom Smith (Chris Cooper, in his first flick since winning the Oscar for “Adaptation”), both men down on their luck as they work through varying levels on lower-level horse racing circuits.  After all three come together, they discover their winning horse and train it to become a top-flight race horse...and eventually compete in a showdown with the greatest race horse at the time, War Admiral.

The performances are amazing, from the three principals and William H. Macy, who provides the film’s funniest moments as radio announcer “Tick-Tock” McLaughlin.  But the visuals are what make “Seabiscuit” a $9.50 Show; seeing this on the big screen is a must.  No major special effects, just sweeping camera shots of racetracks, horses, jockeys, grandstands and the like.  The lighting is just as interesting as scenes set in total darkness.  It’s a really good-looking film, if you get into that sort of thing, which I do.  The score is as over-the-top as you would expect from a “The Little Engine That Could”-style film, but it doesn’t grate on you; even the kitschy scenes with the press from the 1930s that once again have that “Hey, Johnny, read all about it!” flair for the ridiculous don’t get in the way.  And, I thought the editing was superb; the sequence detailing a tragedy happening to Howard’s son was magnificent in its brevity, but it still conveyed all the grief and tragedy that it should without taking up lots of screen time.

I thought the ending was a bit melodramatic; you think the film is over, then it’s not, then it is STILL not, but you leave happy.  I thought it was strange to go from a child actor who is supposed to be 16 to Maguire, who I think was supposed to be 22 when we meet him; the other actors play their respective characters for almost 30 years, but it seems like they aged and Maguire did not.  Weird.  But, this is a solid film and I can see now why some folks have been talking Oscar in the same breath as “Seabiscuit.”

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09