By Jason Wojciechowski on February 16, 2004 at 6:40 AM
We watched Seabiscuit last night. It was essentially what I expected: a standard heroic Hollywood movie about some down-on-their-luck people who make it big in spite of the odds against them.
That said, despite its complete lack of interest in doing anything different from what's traditionally made money at the theaters, it wasn't all that bad. I can't really complain about the acting, as Tobey Maguire, Chris Cooper, and Jeff Bridges all handled their parts admirably, generally showing restraint, not over-acting, even in scenes where men less professional may have been tempted to do so. William H. Macy had the flashy, fun role as the track announcer, but he, like the others, managed to stay within the part, not apparently trying to steal the scenes or upstage the larger movie.
As everyone said, the horse-racing scenes were really neat. I was again happy with the restraint shown by Gary Ross: I'm sure there was temptation to really show off with those scenes, to go over the top with fancy camera work and editing, to really try to make the audience go "Wow!" Ross seemed to resist this temptation, though, resulting in exciting scenes shot in a fairly straight-forward way, giving the audience the feeling of being on a horse in the race, right next to the jockey, without (and I repeat myself here from my Bill Macy comment) upstaging the overall story.
I recall there being a bit of buzz about Gary Stevens, a real-life jockey (and an excellent one, among the best of all time) who plays George Woolf, a highly regarded jockey of that time. Stevens blends traditional leading-man good looks with a natural screen charisma and a dollop of the professional restraint that, in my mind, is this film's calling card, to produce a very strong debut. Stevens is short, as would be expected of a jockey, but he's actually only an inch shorter than Michael J. Fox and (officially) three inches shorter than Tom Cruise (which means that in real life, it's really closer to one and a half or two, I'd bet). If Stevens wishes to continue on the screen, I think he'll be a compelling and successful actor.