In Gary Ross’s shrewdly emotional feature film version, horse-racing heroics circa 1938 are only part of the story. This big-screen Seabiscuit is also a pertly nostalgic period piece, a rousing populist drama, a sly historical epic with intriguing political reverberations and a sleekly old-fashioned “male weepie” of the most big-hearted sort.
The smallish, ungainly-looking race horse of popular lore is the centerpiece in a tale of underdogs and outsiders battling back from calamities large and small. The cast of characters includes the heartbroken automobile mogul (a heartily mature Jeff Bridges) who financed Seabiscuit’s career, the forlorn but not quite broken-down cowboy (Chris Cooper, looking very authentic) who trained the supposedly unredeemable horse, and the wildly conflicted jockey (a quietly brilliant Tobey Maguire) who rode him in all but one of his greatest victories.
An uneasy balance between Hollywood hokum and historical documentation is particularly evident in the film’s dual narrators, one off screen and the other on. The flamboyant radio reporter "Tick-Tock" McLaughlin (William H. Macy) is a zesty and amusing caricature of vintage hoopla and press agentry, while the somber tones of David McCullough’s voice-over narration in the sharply designed historical montages give form to a more reflective and analytical side of the film and its assorted stories.