There's an old saying in horse racing: Breed the best to the best and hope for the best.
That's exactly what director Gary Ross does with Seabiscuit. He's taken a trio of superb actors - Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper - and Laura Hillenbrand's thrillingly good best seller and melded them into a graceful, intelligent and heartfelt film. Right from the beginning, Ross lets us know this is not going to be just another maverick-stallion-finds-love-and-wins-th e-Big-Race story. Seabiscuit himself ( several horses, but Fighting Ferrari in close-ups) doesn't appear until about 45 minutes in.
First, we meet the men behind the horse.
The movie has two climaxes. The first is the match race with War Admiral, conqueror of the Triple Crown and perfection on four legs. Think Rocky vs. Apollo Creed. The second reconfirms the bond between jockey Red Pollard (Maguire) and the Biscuit. Both come back from career-ending injuries - "We've got four legs between us," Pollard cracks - to run in the exclusive, lucrative Santa Anita Handicap, a race that had eluded Seabiscuit twice.
Ross can be too eager to show us the parallels between the triumphs of Seabiscuit, the common man's champ, and America slowly climbing out of the Depression. This concept is a thread throughout the book, but by giving it so much weight and screen time, he loses much of the pungency and humor of Hillenbrand's writing. The movie is a little too aware of its burden of greatness.
Still, the movie's got heart, style and staying power. Much like the horse it celebrates, Seabiscuit outruns its problems and comes home a winner.
The DVD includes mostly standard, well-made extras that include historic footage of actual races. There's also a featurette explaing Ross' process in developing certain scenes.