This review was first published on the Crikey website in November 2003.
Forget Phar Lap, Gunsynd and whatever other hero-horse Australia has occasionally taken to its heart. The American depression-era straw-muncher Seabiscuit went from being literally a joke to being a popular champion so good they match-raced him with the country’s top thoroughbred, a contest which prompted a national half-holiday so 40 million struggling Americans could tune in to this epic contest between the archetypal downtrodden underdog (underhorse?) and the pampered, aristocratic favourite of the rich folks.
‘Seabiscuit’ is an old-fashioned, uplifting tale of triumph over adversity. It claims to be only ‘based on’ a true story, but the story’s such a good one you’ll want to believe in its basics: the maltreated animal whose spirit they couldn’t break, the wise old horse-whisperer who heals him, the well-educated boy with an affinity for horses whose depression-ruined, heart-broken parents give him away to a horse-trainer so he can at least eat, the kindly capitalist who overcomes his own personal tragedies to see the potential in both boy and horse.
I cried about six times. In fact, this is the perfect cross-gender flick. For the guys there’s lots of knockabout action with our young jockey hero battling his way to manhood – often in cruel Les Darcy style with his fists – before his big break on the course; and for the girls there’s love and romance and marriage and children and kindness to animals and all that stuff. It could have ended up Hollywood-mawkish, but it isn’t.
It’s got a couple of name actors: Toby McGuire is good as the jockey, Jeff Bridges ditto as the nice rich bloke.