Movie Reviews

Secretariat

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Rating: 7 out of 10
Movie Details: View here

Cast:
Diane Lane as Penny Chenery
John Malkovich as Lucien Laurin
Scott Glenn as Ogden Phipps
James Cromwell as Ogden Phipps
Dylan Walsh as Jack Tweedy
Fred Dalton Thompson as Bull Hancock
Kevin Connolly as Bill Nack
Nestor Serrano as Pancho Martin
Amanda Michalka as Kate Tweedy
Carissa Capobianco as Sarah Tweedy
Margo Martindale as Miss Ham
Sean Michael Cunningham as Chris Tweedy
Nelsan Ellis as Eddie Sweat
Eric Lange as Andy Beyer
Graham McTavish as Carl Hatton

Directed by Randall Wallace

Summary:
"Secretariat" is another great underdog story about the famous racehorse, but the owner Penny Chenery (played by Diane Lane) is the definite focus of the film. Housewives and working moms will be inspired by her story.

Story:
This film is based on a true story.

After her aging father falls ill, housewife and mother Penny Chenery Tweedy finds herself forced to make a decision in 1969. She must either sell the family horse breeding farm or find a way to turn it around from its downward spiral. Unable to part with the farm her father spent his life building, she opts to keep it despite the strains it puts on her family.

Penny fends off potential buyers and hires the retired horse trainer Lucien Laurin to take over her horses. But their best luck comes when a horse they call "Big Red" is born. Later dubbed "Secretariat" for racing, the horse is unusually strong and talented. And as they begin racing him, his tendency to like to come from behind in races makes him popular with the press and crowds. Despite their success, Penny must put the entire farm and Secretariat himself on the line in order to keep from losing the breeding business. She must count on a unlikely string of wins for the Triple Crown to make that dream come true.

"Secretariat" is rated PG for brief mild language.

What Worked:
Disney continues to add to their string of good sports movies with "Secretariat." If you like movies about underdogs (or is it under-horses?) then this is a film you're going to want to check out.

The big challenge director Randall Wallace had to overcome was the fact that you already knew how the movie would end. They don't make movies about horses that lose races. He got around that by focusing on the lesser known story behind the horse's racing successes, and that puts Penny Chenery squarely in the spotlight. This movie is, in fact, primarily about her. But they probably wouldn't make as much money on a movie called "Penny Chenery" as they would "Secretariat." Penny is on the screen almost the entire film to the point that, about 3/4 of the way through the movie, there's only been one horse race. They make up for it in the final 1/4 of the film, but you see how this story is more about the owner than the horse. Her story of going from housewife to world famous horse owner is interesting. They cover the issues of her breaking into a male-dominated profession. They cover the strains it puts on her relationship with her husband and her children. They cover how the drive to win changes her personally. This is a story that will resonate strongly with any working mother or housewife.

The success of this film is put entirely on the shoulders of Diane Lane who portrays Penny Chenery, and she does an excellent job. When Penny is confronted by bull-headed men, Lane shows a fire in her that convinces you that she is a tough businesswoman. When Penny misses a major event in her daughter's life, Lane breaks down in a way that any mother could sympathize with. Lane perfectly portays Penny's highs and lows and it's a great performance.

She's well supported by John Malkovich as Lucien Laurin. His colorful clothes and hot-headedness make him fun to watch, but it's that combined with his loyalness to Chenery that makes him endearing. In smaller roles are James Cromwell as Ogden Phipps, Fred Dalton Thompson as Bull Hancock, and Scott Glenn as Ogden Phipps. I'm a big fan of Scott Glenn, but his role as Penny's ailing father leaves him with little to do in this movie other than staring off into nothingness. But I'm happy to watch him do even that.

I also should note the cinematography during the horse racing scenes. You get some shots from the jockey's point of view. You get others right next to the horses as they are racing. Then there's a beautiful shot in super-slow motion that shows Secretariat crossing the finish line. It makes you appreciate the grace and motion of the horse. So it was well filmed.

What Didn't Work:
As I already mentioned, you know how the movie ends before it begins. Even someone that only knows Secretariat was a famous racehorse knows he's going to win, so that takes a lot of tension out of the racing scenes. That being said, there were young children in the audience gasping and clapping as Secretariat won. There were even adults applauding the scenes. So while I wasn't on the edge of my seat, some people were. Take that as you will.

I did feel that the movie missed an opportunity to give the horse himself more personality. The characters in the film tell us that Secretariat liked to pose for pictures, liked to lean his butt in the back of the starting gate, etc. But you rarely see the horse himself do that. Films like "The Black Stallion" gave personality to the horse himself by having him actually do things on the screen. We don't get that in "Secretariat." There are shots of him blankly staring into the camera and standing still for a girl taking a picture of him, but I felt it needed a bit more. More time was spent on Penny and the other characters.

I might also complain about the over two hour running time, but looking back I didn't see too many scenes that could be cut from the film and still give it the same impact. I think Wallace told what needed to be told. It just means that there's a LOT to tell and the movie will run long.

The Bottom Line:
If you're a fan of horse racing or if you're a fan of Diane Lane and John Malkovich, this "Secretariat" is required viewing for you.

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