DEBUT COLUMN: Now Showing in The Man Cave
Publisher's Note: CW Contributing Editor Rob Geyer (Rob G) has graciously volunteered to write a regular column on movies. He also is the proud owner of his own man cave, where he can smoke cigars while he watches movies. This column isn't meant to be like Roger Ebert, but rather a review of movies available on DVD that Rob has recently viewed and/or enjoyed.
It’s the 1920s, and the United States is feeling the full effect of the industrial revolution. Henry Ford’s assembly line has changed the face of American industry forever. Cowboys like Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) become displaced, as the wide open plains of the western frontier slowly disappear. Many are forced to find work elsewhere. Some, like Tom, take up jobs with sideshows, circuses and rodeos.
For men like Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), the American dream turns into reality. A bicycle repairman turned car salesman, Charles becomes one of the richest men in the nation, running the largest automobile dealership west of the Mississippi. But unprecedented wealth cannot protect Charles and his wife (Valerie Mahaffey) from the tragedy that lies ahead. Their only son is killed in an automobile accident. Divorce soon follows, and Charles, although wealthy, finds himself very much alone.
For the middle class, the roaring 20s is a time of prosperity with jobs for all. Red Pollard (Toby McGuire), a youth, is content and happy, with loving parents and close family bonds. But when the stock market crashes in 1929, millions of families, including the Pollards, lose everything. Every member of the family works odd jobs to put food on the table. Red’s parents eventually abandon him, leaving him to fend for himself at the tender age of 15. All alone in the world, Red becomes a boxer and jockey to support himself. No matter what he does or where he goes, the demons from his past never seem to subside.
The United States is in the throes of the Great Depression. People look and hope for a brighter tomorrow. They need something to believe in, someone to cheer for. They need a hero. Little do they know that the hero will come in the form of a horse who -- like Red, Charles and Tom -- has a tormented past. An average horse by any standard, Seabiscuit, often referred to as a runt, will not only change the lives of Charles, Red and Tom, but will inspire a nation.
Through a series of fateful events, Charles (the owner), Tom (the trainer) and Red (the jockey) end up together. Eventually, through hard work and determination, Seabiscuit proves his worth. The team travels across the country, winning race after race. But, as is often the case, life continues to present challenges. Red shatters his leg while riding another horse. The doctors claim that Red will never ride again. Soon, Seabiscuit sustains his own leg injury, which, like Red's, will, by all appearances, end his career. Between the two of them, Seabiscuit and Red have but four good legs. But Red and Seabiscuit set out to prove the naysayers wrong.
I still remember seeing the movie Seabiscuit for the first time. Back then, I had an idea of what the story was about – a horse that got injured and made a comeback. I was wrong. The story is so much more than that.
Many of us can relate to the twice spoken quote, "You don't throw a whole life away just 'cause it's banged up a little." That phrase is, in a nutshell, the theme of this movie.
The casting is superb. Jeff Bridges, Toby Maguire and Chris Cooper perform flawlessly. I don't think the casting director could have done a better job.
I watched this film on HD DVD. The picture quality was excellent, and would be the same on Blu-Ray. It was displayed in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Anyone watching this film should make sure they see the widescreen version. To watch this in an edited full screen version would not do the film justice.
The extras on my disc included an A&E special, which told the 'true story' of Seabiscuit. What amazed me is that the producers had taken very few liberties in making Seabiscuit the movie. The movie accurately told the real life story of Seabiscuit.
Footage of the actual race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral was also included. Though B&W and obviously not as vivid and clear as the movie sequence, this segment was still amazing to watch. Just as in the movie, Seabiscuit waited for War Admiral to catch up, and then took off, winning by 4 lengths.
And make no mistake about it; Seabiscuit was a huge celebrity back in the 1930s. 80,000 fans came to watch Seabiscuit challenge War Admiral, with a further 40 million people tuning in to listen to the race on the radio. Per capita, this was the most popular sporting event in US history. The importance of Seabiscuit and this race for the American people cannot be understated.
I have noticed that many films have poor endings. No matter how good these films may be, they just can't seem to provide a good finale. At first, I felt the same way about Seabiscuit. The film ended just as Seabiscuit and Red were crossing the finish line. But I didn't get to see the celebration. I really wanted to see a Rocky II ending, with Red screaming the equivalent of "Yo Adriane, I did it." That didn’t happen. The film just ended.
But upon reflection, it dawned on me that the ending amplified one of the film's key messages – winning doesn’t matter. It's the running of the race, win, lose or draw, that truly matters.
I loved this movie. I give it 5 stars out of 5.
Incidentally, the movie is based on the best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand, who has suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for many years and was inspired to live vicariously through telling the story as a way of coping with her own illness. Her latest book, Unbroken, is being released as a movie this year. In addition to it being Angelina Jolie's directorial debut, the screen adaptation is written by Joel and Ethan Coen (Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Are Thou?).