Secretariat (2010)

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IMDb Rating
7.2 out of 10 (view IMDb page)

  • Not Rated Yet
(Based on 0 Ratings)
MPAA Rating:
PG for brief mild language.
Drama, Sport
Randall Wallace
Mike Rich (written by)
William Nack (book) (suggestion)

Weekly Volcano's Review

Rev. Adam McKinney on October 6th, 2010

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I've been professionally reviewing films for a few months now, and I have tried to remain conscious of staying away from film critic clichés. After seeing Secretariat, however, I am strongly tempted to type the words "wooden" and "uninspired." There's just no way around it. Secretariat is a film of ferocious mediocrity and scenes of desperate exposition.

Close to the beginning of the film, Penny Chenery (Diane Lane, in a performance made up entirely of twitchy eyebrows) breaks down and spells it out for us: she and her colt - who will later grow to become the Triple Crown-winning racehorse Secretariat - are metaphorically identical in their desire to rise above their respective challenges and succeed in the face of adversity. There are maybe 90 minutes left of film after this bombshell is dropped.

People who have a casual knowledge of history will recognize Secretariat as a very special horse - one considered, indeed, to this very day, to be the best racehorse of all time. He was the first horse to win the Triple Crown in over 20 years, and he did so by a margin so wide that it has yet to be surpassed. Interesting, yes. Could it make for a compelling movie? Probably. Just not yet, unfortunately.

Secretariat opens in 1969 as Penny is sitting down to dinner with her family. Her daughter self-consciously talks about maybe protesting the Vietnam War, and her husband establishes the facial expression that he will hold for the rest of the movie. Penny receives a phone call saying her mother has died, and she goes to her father's farm to be by his side and take care of the estate.

Long, long story short, Penny gets all gruff and fires the person who trains her father's horses, replaces him with an eccentric French-Canadian trainer played by John Malkovich and awaits the birth of the horse who would become Secretariat. And she does all of this because ... well, I don't know why. Honor? It's probably honor.

I suppose I've always known that horseracing is a rich man's game, but I never really thought about just how rich one must be in order to be successful in the sport. It is only because Penny's father had an arrangement with the RICHEST MAN IN THE WORLD (James Cromwell) that she comes into possession of Secretariat (who, by the way, is better known to his friends and owners as Big Red). Later, for reasons too complicated to get into, Penny needs to come up with $6 million - fast! The Richest Man in the World offers her $8 million dollars for Big Red, and she laughs in his face.

In hindsight, that might have been the point where I should have left the theater.

Secretariat tries very hard to join the club of other uplifting sports movies. As is the tradition in uplifting sports movies, Penny, though uninteresting herself, is surrounded by potentially amusing character actors. Actors like Malkovich, Margo Martindale (that wonderful actress that Alexander Payne likes so much) and Nelsan Ellis (terrific as Lafayette on True Blood) are given nothing to work with. Malkovich could have been great as the pompous and flamboyant horse trainer, had the movie not forgotten half-way through about his pomposity and flamboyance.

No one is allowed to be the bad guy, save for a rival horse trainer. And even then, he just represents the spirit of competition, not maliciousness. When the end arrives, we are not surprised to see the outcome of the big race, but we are surprised to realize that there are absolutely no other strings to tie up - no conflict left to be resolved. The right horse wins, and that's supposed to be enough.

Oh, and how I blush when I recall how Secretariat half-heartedly attempts to occasionally attribute human thoughts and emotions to the blank, dead eyes of that dumb horse. He only knows how to run, not how to mean-mug his competitors.

If some effort had been spent on humanizing the actual humans, perhaps this wouldn't go down as a supremely forgettable story of a truly impressive animal. - One and a half stars

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