Directed by: Randall Wallace
Cast: Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Margo Martindale, Scott Glenn
Running Time: 1 hr 54 mins
Release Date: October 8, 2010
PLOT: A housewife (Lane) takes over the stables from her ailing father (Glenn) and thinks she has a triple crown winner in a new horse they eventually call Secretariat.
WHO’S IT FOR? Want to celebrate a strong woman in the early 70s? Love Diane Lane no matter what? Those are your main motivators. Sure, there are horses, but not as many as you would think.
EXPECTATIONS: One thought kept creeping into my head, can Secretariat really contend with Seabiscuit. I knew nothing about the Seabiscuit story, where as almost everyone knows Secretariat was the last horse to win the triple crown. I mean, ESPN’s SportsCentury had Secretariat at number 35 for best athletes.
Diane Lane as Penny Chenery: She’s the first lady of horse racing. Actually, that’s not a compliment. I felt like I was actually watching a President’s wife. Maybe like Laura Bush. Penny always looks proper. Penny always says the right thing. In fact, almost everything she says is a speech. Look, I know it had to be difficult for Penny to be accepted into the all-boys club, but this character simply didn’t seem real. I’m starting to realize Lane doesn’t really do it for me. If you’d like to prove me wrong, don’t forget to mention Must Love Dogs.
John Malkovich as Lucien Laurin: On one hand, thank god for Malkovich. His presence alone can make you find interest in something otherwise mundane. On the other, why don’t we get to see Lucien’s torment? This character is turned into a comedic sidekick. He’s the trainer, though we rarely see him train. It seems like he mainly says,”Let the horse do what he wants.” There’s one moment that describes this man best, and it’s when you see he hangs on to the newspaper clippings from his past loses. That’s simply a moment. Otherwise it’s just about looking at his funny outfits. Again, at least it’s Malkovich.
Otto Thorwarth as Ron Turcotte: Thorwarth plays the jockey of Secretariat and also is a real-life jockey. The entire time I was watching him I kept thinking, “This guy is not a real actor, right?” That’s not what you want. There’s a reason they got Tobey Maguire for Seabiscuit. Thorwarth is fine, but is that what you want from the guy who gets to cross the finish line with the greatest horse of all-time.
Rest of cast: Scott Glenn plays Penny’s father and doesn’t do much of anything, but is supposed to be the emotional push that Penny needs to keep pushing forward. Margo Martidale is Miss Ham. This is Martidale’s biggest role to date. She’s a sweetheart, but it becomes a little too cut and paste whenever Lucien and Miss Ham are together, you know a joke is coming. If there is a villain, it’s Nestor Serrano as Pancho Martin. He owns Sham, the main rival to Secretariat. He’s mad as hell, and has a big mouth. There’s no background, so it just comes off as a show.
TALKING: Since I said Lane was First Lady-like as Penny, let’s keep that theme going. The entire film is filled with Penny giving stump speeches. The film starts with a voiceover from Lane quoting the Bible. It continues with lines like, “You never know how far you can go unless you run.” She believes in Secretariat. Why? Because she believes. I’m not saying belief is a bad thing, but there’s little explanation given for her determination.
SIGHTS: Horses are beautiful creatures. There’s magic in their eyes even if they don’t have a horn or wings. Only a small handful of times did it seems they captured that magic. I needed more horse! Also, once on the race track they clearly used HD hand held cameras which diminished the quality. Sure, Malkovich’s outfits were good for a laugh. But on the other hand, Lane had to use blue contacts and maybe I’ll be the only one to comment, but they were awful.
SOUNDS: The musical score doesn’t do much to inspire. “Oh Happy Day” by The Edwin Hawkins Singers absolutely does nail the fun and feeling that should have come across the entire film. I won’t get into the idea that “when Jesus washed” is somehow equal to Secretariat running. I’ll leave that for someone else.
BEST SCENE: Penny wants Lucien to train her horse. She goes and visits him while he’s on the driving range. Malkovich swinging, apologizing and being annoyed is fantastic fun. It’s the first time in the film that anything interesting happened.
ENDING: The song “Oh Happy Day” makes a very necessary comeback. We also get to know where these real-life characters went in life. Then again, all it really says about Miss Ham is that she’s credited with naming the horse. But we already knew that because we watched the movie, right?
QUESTIONS: So, Ron the jockey simply needs to whisper in Secretariat’s ear and say things like, “Let’s go Red” That’s it? That’s all that’s needed? No kicking, nothing? For those who watch “Entrourage,” it’s hilarious to see Kevin Connolly with a mustache as reporter Bill Nack, right?
REWATCHABILITY: My worry with a second viewing would be that the film would feel even slower. I’m not going to risk it.
Secretariat isn’t about a horse. It’s not about a jockey. It’s not about a trainer. It’s about a horse owner. On paper, this sounds like a great idea because the owner is a woman. She’s also an upper-class housewife, and really she only has her father’s farm to lose. There’s not much as stake even though the film will constantly try to convince you EVERYTHING is on the line.
The story has been Disney-fied. It happens to many films. A perfect example is The Blind Side, by the same director, and not technically a film by Disney. Warner Bros. gets credit for that one. Secretariat has been Disney-fied for the sake of entertainment. It’s when real-life is replaced and instead they step over the line and enter melodrama. I’m not saying it doesn’t have its place. Hell, I even shed a few tears during films like The Blind Side and Radio (written by Mike Rich who also wrote this film). But Secretariat is overkill.
Seabiscuit and The Horse Whisperer honored the animal. This one honors the person who owned the horse. Secretariat ended up on the cover of Time magazine. You don’t feel that watching this film. Instead of showcasing the greatest race horse ever, they looked around and decided the woman could be the underdog.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10