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Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.11%
Worth A Look: 14.81%
Average: 3.7%
Pretty Bad44.44%
Total Crap: 25.93%

3 reviews, 9 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"Not Even Worthy Of The Glue Factory"
1 stars

The story of famed racehorse Seabiscuit was a flawed treatment of a very interesting story. Set during the great depression, it focused on the three most crucial elements surrounding a thoroughbred: its owner, its trainer and its jockey. Each of them were interesting characters all seeking a comeback in a time when race enthusiasts were more happy to see a fast horse than making their fortune betting on him; a hypocritical flaw the film failed to address in favor of seeking a national hero. Some 35 years after the "match of the century" with War Admiral, another horse would come along to challenge Seabiscuit for the title of the greatest of all-time. The economy was a lot better and the hard times felt by Secretariat's owner were not of the same gravitas. Randall Wallace's film seems to think otherwise, however, and the longer the problems of a rather privileged woman do not add up to a hill of oats the more disingenuous its speeches about pursuing one's dreams become. Especially as the ones giving them are hitching theirs on the back of a horse.

Penny Tweedy (Diane Lane) grew up around the harsh life of the horse stables. Riding them, watching them on the farm and learning about them from her father (Scott Glenn) who owned them all. Now a family woman herself, Penny is brought back to the farm when mom dies. Dad is heavy in debt and dementia. And her brother, Jack (Dylan Baker in the obligatory Timothy Busfield role), is pressuring her to sell the land while they can still make a profit. Penny resists though and decides to take her chances on a coin toss to see who will get first choice at the sires of Bold Ruler, a famed stallion of the time. She loses the toss to breeder Ogden Phipps (James Cromwell) but he selects the horse she never wanted. Hers gives birth to the one known at the time as Big Red.

After firing her sexist trainer, Penny offers the position to Lucien Lauren (John Malkovich), who has retired after a string of failures that he keeps newspaper clippings of in his wallet. Realizing that golf is not his game, Lucien joins the team and hires Ron Turcotte (jockey Otto Thorwarth) as their new rider while part-time horse psychic, Eddie Sweat (True Blood's Nelsan Ellis), stays on as their groomer. Penny even maintains the sassy female assistant, Miss Ham (Margo Martindale) that worked for her father. She eventually gives the horse its racing name of Secretariat and thus begins the rise of the last horse to win the famed Triple Crown.

Considering the built-in metaphor of a racehorse known for starting far back of the pace only to come on like gangbusters and pass the field, Randall Wallace and screenwriter Mike Rich are still content on beating it into the ground with a protagonist who was never that far behind in the proverbial race of life. The rooting interest in a woman literally living the American dream and trying to save the family business for herself (since the rest of the family either doesn't want it or is dead) is a rather negligible focus. Even with a feminist slant where every male outside of her staff looks down at her efforts (privately, in person and to the press) the idea that an upper middle-class woman (at worst) is going to pave the way for the Gloria Steinem movement is pretty insulting.

If there is really any story to tell here aside from any half-baked connection to female empowerment or the laughably wedged introduction of anti-war protest to a suburban family, it is definitely not Penny's to tell. Lucien's comeback is trivial at best as the film purports to know next-to-nothing about the intricacies of horse racing aside from the use of a stopwatch and thus gives him little to do but wear colorful suits. Nobody may have backed a film strapped to the horse's point of view, but experiencing a tale (even a flawed one) of such scope and ambition already with Seabiscuit, anything less or fairly similar already put Secretariat in the back of the pack. And by the time the historic races finally begin around the 90-minute mark, the film has already pulled up and thrown its jockey.

Diane Lane has always been an exquisite beauty on screen. But when that aspect is not an intricate spotlight of her character, there is a cold distance to her work that cannot be helped through forced smiles. Lane’s work here is just flat and uninteresting, rarely projecting even an allusion of strength beyond just doing the opposite of what every rotten male in the film tells her is the right thing. Determination does not earn its phrasing by just ignoring reasonable advice with a twinge of chavunist prejudice. It comes from fighting not just against the odds but in defiant opposition to the forces pushing back. Mike Rich can not just get away with the telling the true story as he did so successfully with both 2002’s The Rookie and Miracle. Their protagonists had to fight against age and live up to national expectations in the Olympics when moral was at its lowest. Penny’s biggest hurdle is a husband occasionally reminding her she has a family (which is just standard issue guilt tripping for a biopic) and her fate rests on a coin toss and a horse she has no control over. That’s not girl power. That’s not determination. That’s just luck, plain and simple.

Secretariat has no time to educate its audience on all the intricacies involved in the Sport of Kings and all the preparation needed to make a champion. Your average self-talker at the track can tell you more during a pass-by than this film will. If you want to subscribe to the idea that horse racing is not about gambling and more Teri Garr’s double-take inducing statement from Let It Ride that she can’t understand why everyone can not “just watch the horses run around the track and not bet on them”, then fine. Hopefully you can get back some world-class racing footage out of it all and pretend that money is not the overriding catalyst bringing people together. Only your $10 return gets you nothing but bad angles, shaky cameras and the head-smacking reprise of a Jesus hymn during Secretariat’s record-breaking stretch run. The Preakness stakes we watch on the Tweedy’s television for Heaven’s sake. If ever a film recreated the experience of visiting an OTB – where you watch races on TV from far away, people are dressed poorly and it’s quite stinky – then Secretariat is a resounding success.

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originally posted: 10/08/10 15:00:00
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User Comments

11/07/12 Mayfield I thought it was pretty good but could have focused more on the horse. Great acting. 4 stars
1/26/11 GEORGE B. FEIST Not OLD YELLER but a good movie 4 stars
1/22/11 Shawn E LOVED IT! Gave me chills, and tears. 5 stars
11/01/10 Les Kirk I am not a Disney Fan, but this is one Fantastic Film-Dont' Miss 5 stars
10/19/10 Tiaras & Tantrums although this was a good film, it was not great b/c there were many "errors" that were quit 4 stars
10/15/10 Christine wrong! are you old enough to remember him?you miss the point 5 stars
10/12/10 tracey Worst mvie I have seen in years.Went with friends and we spent the entire movie talking 1 stars
10/12/10 Ronald Holst its ok If you are into horses , I'm not 3 stars
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  08-Oct-2010 (PG)
  DVD: 25-Jan-2011


  DVD: 25-Jan-2011

[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Randall Wallace

Written by
  Mike Rich

  Diane Lane
  John Malkovich
  Dylan Walsh
  Scott Glenn
  Dylan Baker
  Margo Martindale

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