Seabiscuit Movie Review

Seabiscuit, a pint-sized horse with a penchant for lounging and munching, had a somewhat unruly past. That all changed when he crossed paths with three remarkable men who molded him into a beloved sports hero of the 1930s. Charles Howard, the owner with an eye for hidden potential, Tom Smith, the unconventional trainer with a knack for healing horses others had given up on, and Red Pollard, the jockey who began as a stablehand during the Depression, played key roles in Seabiscuit’s transformation.

The film “Seabiscuit,” adapted from Laura Hillenbrand’s best-seller, unfolds the stories of these three men and their remarkable horse against the backdrop of a nation brought to its knees by the Great Depression. America was desperately seeking something to restore its faith. In the movie’s simplified narrative, both Seabiscuit and Roosevelt’s New Deal, in that approximate order, provided a much-needed boost for the nation. If an underdog like Seabiscuit could triumph over larger, more famous horses with illustrious pedigrees, it offered a glimmer of hope for everyone.

The movie follows the classic sports movie formula, with a last-minute setback just before the big race. But, much like Seabiscuit himself, it starts off at a leisurely pace. It takes its time introducing the era and the three key characters before the horse takes center stage. The timeless struggle between the car and the horse is portrayed, with Charles Howard (portrayed by Jeff Bridges) initially working as a bicycle salesman. However, his life takes a turn when he’s asked to fix a Stanley Steamer, leading to improvements that make him a millionaire. He buys a farm and transforms the stables into a garage.


Following a family tragedy, Charles changes his course and delves into horse ownership and breeding. The movie also depicts the moments when he crosses paths with Pollard (played by Tobey Maguire) and Smith (depicted by Chris Cooper). Charles has everything in place except for a horse, but Smith believes in Seabiscuit with unwavering faith, mainly due to the horse’s exceptional heart.

The film avoids the mistake of anthropomorphizing the horse. Throughout, Seabiscuit remains a true horse, possessing remarkable speed and an indomitable spirit when guided by Smith’s strategic wisdom and Pollard’s unwavering affection.

The movie’s horse races are electrifying because they absolutely must be. And the credit goes to the filmmaker, Gary Ross, and his cinematographer, John Schwartzman, who manage to bring us remarkably close to the heart-pounding action. Their camera work leaves us guessing where it’s located, as if we’re suspended at times amidst the fierce competition between two determined horses and their jockeys.

This film provides a vivid glimpse into the sheer difficulty and peril of riding those magnificent creatures in a race. The jockeys, at times allies and at times fierce rivals, exchange shouts during the races. Sometimes it pays off, while at other moments, it feels a bit improbable, like when Red bids a “goodbye” to a friend just as Seabiscuit shifts into high gear for the win.


Just as horses vie for victory, their owners engage in their own intense competition. Seabiscuit, after conquering all the Western champion horses, prompts Charles Howard to devise a strategy for a head-to-head race with War Admiral, the Eastern champion and Triple Crown winner owned by Samuel Riddle, played by Eddie Jones. Howard embarks on a nationwide campaign, akin to Truman’s 1948 efforts, generating immense public support that eventually persuades Riddle to agree to the race, albeit on his terms. This decision adds an extra layer of drama.

The radio broadcast of this monumental race, we’re informed, reached the largest audience in history, with businesses even closing for the afternoon so their employees could tune in.

If there’s a flaw in “Seabiscuit,” it lies in the film’s somewhat surprising disregard for betting. Traditionally, horses race and bettors place their wagers, and the connection between the two is age-old. However, in this movie, the Seabiscuit team appears solely focused on the sport, seemingly unaware of the gambling scene. It’s as if they’d be genuinely taken aback to learn that betting occurs at the track. While introducing a subplot about betting might complicate matters, it may not be much of a loss in this context.

I really enjoyed the movie, though I didn’t quite fall in love with it. Maybe it’s because while I easily connect with dogs, horses have never been my closest companions. I found myself rooting for Seabiscuit, but not walking every step of the journey with him. My favorite character was Tom Smith, and once again, Chris Cooper shines as one of the most remarkably versatile actors in the industry. In this role, he appears aged, pale, and a bit weathered.

Seabiscuit movie 2003

Just a year ago in “Adaptation,” he was a sun-kissed swamp dweller, and in John Sayles’ “Lone Star,” he portrayed a ruggedly handsome Texas sheriff. It’s astounding how he effortlessly undergoes these transformations. Here, with a few precise movements and quiet words, he convinces us that when it comes to horses, he knows it all.

Tobey Maguire and Jeff Bridges also deliver wonderful performances, embodying their characters with depth. Maguire portrays a jockey who gives his heart and soul to the sport, while Bridges depicts a man who grows wiser and better as he ages. And then there’s William H. Macy as Tick Tock McGlaughlin, a frenzied radio announcer who adds quirky sound effects and playful wordplay to his excited trackside updates. If Tick Tock McGlaughlin didn’t exist in real life, I’d rather not know.

“Seabiscuit” will please both those who’ve delved into the book and those like me who haven’t. Lately, I’ve dipped my toes into the realm of racing journalism through “My Turf” by the great Sports Illustrated writer William A. Nack. I recall attending a reading where his poignant account of Secretariat’s passing moved the audience to tears. Similarly, after watching “Seabiscuit,” I witnessed tears shed by viewers. It further supports my belief that people are often moved to tears by movies not solely due to sadness, but because of the goodness and courage they showcase.

Read also:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *