It has been a long time since I have seen a film audience burst into applause, yet this happened not once but twice in my screening of “Seabiscuit.”
“Seabiscuit” is based on the true story of a racehorse that became very important to a lot of people during the Depression. The horse, which was smaller than most racehorses, could have easily been disregarded by anyone knowledgeable about the sport. Instead, he gains the attention of three men: an aging and forgotten trainer who chooses the horse; a grieving millionaire who buys the horse; and a discouraged, oversized jockey who rides the horse.
All of these men need this horse to bring hope back into their lives. Through their efforts, the horse becomes a symbol of hope for a nation.
These men, from three different generations, need one another; theirs is a symbiotic relationship. Much like all the truly meaningful relationships in life, these three individuals give and receive greatly through their experiences with one another. Because they depend on one another, they are never ready to give up on each other. The film is a powerful metaphor for what relationships should be in faith communities: Each person gives to and receives from others; and no person is ever considered a lost cause, worthy of abandonment.
Beyond the relationships of the three central characters, and the inspiring story of the horse named Seabiscuit, this film also boasts a superb history lesson about the “Great Depression.” Like so many events of the past century, youth and older children may have little or no knowledge of this country’s economic hardship during the 1930s. “Seabiscuit” offers a great entry point for conversations about this era of need and sacrifice.
Also, at a time when our national leaders are again espousing plans to help the least fortunate in our nation through the trickle-down effect of cutting taxes for the most fortunate, “Seabiscuit” reminds the viewer of a time when politicians really believed that helping the common man began on the level of the one struggling. Like the central story of the film, Franklin Roosevelt believed in a system that proclaimed no one was worthy of abandonment.
The screenplay for “Seabiscuit” probably owes a great deal to the book Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand. It is a strong script, avoiding most of the clichés of sports films. Some may say it is heavy on sentiment, and that is accurate, but this story of overcoming the odds could hardly be told without emotion. If there is any real flaw in the script, it comes in the final moment, as narration is spoken over the closing shot. The film’s lesson is voiced unnecessarily, for this near perfect film has already revealed its message.
Finally, “Seabiscuit” is a wonderfully made film. The three leading performances by Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper (recent Oscar winner for supporting actor in “Adaptation”) are some of their best work. All three men bring just the right tone to these injured individuals who need something in which to believe. The film also boasts exquisite attention to detail in costuming and art direction. The cinematography is some of the best of the year, especially shots placing the viewer right in the center of the horseracing action. The film is a joy to behold.
The audience first applauded during a climatic moment that could have easily been the end of the film—if “Seabiscuit” were a formulaic sports movie. It applauded again when the last words of narration were spoken and the credits began to roll. The audience, myself included, was grateful for a well-made film, an inspiring story, and a reminder that we all need someone who won’t give up on us.
Roger Thomas is pastor of First Baptist Church in Albemarle, N.C.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual situations and violent sports-related images
Director: Gary Ross
Writer: Gary Ross
Cast: Charles Howard: Jeff Bridges; Tom Smith: Chris Cooper; Red Pollard: Tobey Maguire; Marcela Howard: Elizabeth Banks.