Film review by: Witney Seibold

            When people refer to Hollywood sentimentality or schmaltz, they’re talking about films like “Seabiscuit.” It’s a wonder that director Gary Ross can go from an astute and intelligent film that challenged American ideals like “Pleasantville,” and then produce something so full of cheap tear-jerking moments and enough sweetness to induce cavities like “Seabiscuit.” The film isn’t terrible; in fact it’s nicely well-rounded, and even a little charming. It’s just painfully, painfully typical. And really, really syrupy.
            The film opens in 1860s Manhattan where Bill the Butcher holds sway over the Five Points using fear. Oh, wait. That’s “Gangs of New York.” It actually opens in Manhattan during the season of plenty right before the Crash of ’29. We meet, in their respective homes across the country: Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) who has just made a bundle on his steam autos, but proceeds to lose a son, and get a divorce. We meet “Red” Pollard (Tobey Maguire), a smart young man abandoned by his parents at 16, who grows into a piss ‘n’ vinegar fighter. And we meet Tom Smith (Chris Cooper, great as always), the mountain hippie who understands horses. Eventually the three meet. And, of course, we meet Seabiscuit (a horse) who is a small, lazy, and angry animal at first, but, with the right training, treatment, and focus, becomes the underdog that Depression-era audiences climbed trees to see.
            Words like “sappy” kept springing to mind while I was watching “Seabiscuit.” We get the requisite sport-movie clichés: here the jockey is injured. Here we learn from the horse that life is grand. Here we see the longshot beat the tried-and-true champ. I usually enjoy being manipulated by a film, but not in this way. The saccharine flavor is mildly masked by lush photography, and some rather nice acting, but it’s not entirely covered up. Like I said, a little charming, but covered with sweet goo.
            Seabiscuit was indeed an icon back in the ‘30s, and, like most entertainment at the time, was able to simultaneously distract people from their respective plights, and remind them that often the underdog can win. Perhaps Laura Hillenbrand’s book tells the story without the sappy music.

Published in: on June 25, 2009 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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