Review: Secretariat


Secretariat.  It’s a movie.  It’s a movie about a horse.  It’s a movie about a horse and it’s not Seabiscuit. Secretariat, starring Diane Lane and John Malkovich, follows Disney’s trend of cashing in on inspiring sports stories. The film comes from the same producers who brought us Invincible, Miracle, and The Rookie and since those films were well received (sort of), it makes sense to wonder if this inspirational story about a Triple Crown winner will be a success.  And more importantly, will they find an opportune moment to play Q Lazarus’s “Goodbye Horses”?

Secretariat tells the story of Penny Chenery (Lane), a housewife who inherits her ailing father’s stable despite having no knowledge of horses or horse racing.  With a little guidance from an eccentric trainer (Malkovich) and loyal stable hand (Nelsan Ellis), she overcomes all odds and raises a young colt into a Triple Crown winner.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve seen a Disney movie, it’s best to remind yourself how safe and clean they are. While I do recognize the need for family-oriented, kid-friendly films, Disney actively protects their audience in a manner that is borderline offensive to me as a moviegoer.  Throughout the entire movie, Diane Lane’s character neglects her husband and four children because she’s too preoccupied with the ranch.  Do the children mind that their mother is never at home and would rather tend to a horse than see them grow up?  Nope, they just decide to stay the same age and be happy forever.  Is her marriage in shambles or does her husband show any type of resentment for her neglect? No, he just smiles and takes it like a bitch. 

There was potential for real drama to take place here, and they squandered it for the sake of not alienating anybody.  At one point, after finding out that Secretariat was named “Horse of the Year”, John Malkovich’s character stands up in excitement and decides to buy everyone in the restaurant a round of Arnold Palmers.  Arnold Palmers?  I mean don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the wonderful concoction of lemonade and iced tea as much as the next man, but I’m sure a proper drink is in order sir!

What’s even more offensive is seeing great actors like Diane Lane, John Malkovich and 2.5 minutes of James Cromwell completely phone it in.  Either they thought they needed to be in more movies that their grandkids could watch or they needed a piece of that Disney money (is Diane Lane a grandmother yet?  If so, GILF).  Though Malkovich had a few moments, I felt that the only actor who managed to shine in this movie was Lafayette — I’m sorry – Nelsan Ellis.  Although he was basically hired to play the “sassy yet wise man of color” and his story was hardly delved into, his scene of passionately yelling out into the stands before the race was the film’s only endearing moment.

What this film seriously lacked was heart.  They planted seeds of inspiration like a woman overcoming odds in a male dominated world or a failed trainer’s final chance at redemption, but nothing came of it.  They could’ve further explored these themes but instead decided to put in a horrendous scene of everybody dancing while washing the horse.  The plot jumped from event to event without any sort of natural transition, leaving the whole thing feeling mechanical and cold.  Worst of all, we learn the outcome of one of the most important races in Secretariat’s career as it takes place on a TV screen with Penny’s neglected family cheering in the background.

This film could have easily been an inspiring tale of triumph and the sacrifices made to attain glory.  But because there’s neither sense of risk or attachment to these characters, all this movie turns out to be is a lot of weird scenes of 1st level dialogue towards a horse.

Overall Score: 4.75 – Terrible. (4s are terrible in many ways. They’re bad enough that even diehard fans of its genre, director, or cast still probably won’t enjoy it at all, and everyone else will leave the theater incredibly angry. Not only are these not worth renting, you should even change the TV channel on them in the future.)

It’s hard to make a good movie about horse racing.  If anything, let this movie be a testament to how much work was put in to make Seabiscuit good.  Also, they never played Q Lazarus Goodbye Horses, just a bunch of oddly placed songs about Jesus.