Seabiscuit (2003)

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Gary Ross directs Jeff Bridges, Tobey Maguire and Chris Cooper in this historical drama about an underdog racehorse who captured the imagination of the US public during the Great Depression. 

I’m always surprised that Seabiscuit doesn’t come up in conversation more often. To me it shares so much with The Shawshank Redemption, a perennial choice for other people’s favourite movie. It has the same richly realised period sheen. The same lost era Americana fablesque quality. The same masculine sentimentality and wallop of tragedy. It is a film you can watch with all the family, yet deals with grief, depression, unemployment, disability and the restrictive unfairness of free market economics. It also has tremendous race sequences that use a combination of undetectable CGI and stunt jockeys to put you right in the saddle during the breakneck speed battles. Seabiscuit the horse makes a cute conduit for four intertwining strands. Cooper as a last cowboy drifter type, realising that America (and his way of life) is losing its freedom of movement. Bridges as a tycoon looking for a new challenge, one that will distract him from his grief of losing a son. Maguire as a young man brutalised and abandoned by the economic crash, whose skill on a horse is his meal ticket but one that is becoming less and less valid as he ages. Finally, of America as a whole recovering from mass unemployment. This final strand is voiced in a Ken Burns documentary evoking narration, giving the pleasing manipulations we witness a syrupy weight of historical import. It proves to be a quality, feelgood, adult experience… one that maybe goes around the track of failure and comeback one time too many to be a truly perfect experience… but you can’t blame Ross for letting the truth get in the way of a great story.

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