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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 Mel Valentin

"A race not worth running."
2 stars

Everyone loves a winner, especially if that winner’s a horse, even more so if the horse, Secretariat, happened to win the Triple Crown (of Thoroughbred Racing). Add an Oscar-nominated-writer-turned-director, Randall Wallace ("Braveheart"), an Oscar-nominated actress, Diane Lane, as Secretariat’s housewife-turned-racehorse-owner, blatant, overt sexism against said housewife-turned-racehorse-owner, an Oscar-nominated, venerable,-middle-aged thespian, John Malkovich, as a colorful French-Canadian horse trainer with a history of also-rans and never-wins, a Magical Negro with a horse for a best friend, and the end result looks and sounds like "Secretariat," a suspense-free, cliché-ridden, over sentimental, manipulative film.

Secretariat centers on Penny Chenery (Diane Lane, obviously hoping for the Sandra Bullock/Blind Side effect at Oscar time), a housewife who, on the death of her mother and the incapacitation of her father (Scott Glenn) due, presumably, to Alzheimer’s, takes over her family’s struggling horse farm in Kentucky. Not surprisingly for a woman in late 1960s, even one born to relative wealth and privilege like Chenery, she faces overt sexism from men, including her husband, Jack Tweedy (Dylan Walsh), who strongly prefers she sell the horse farm and return to being a full-time housewife for him and their children, Kate (Amanda Michalka), Sarah (Carissa Capobianco), and Chris (Sean Michael Cunningham), her brother, Hollis (Dylan Baker), and her father’s business partner and “the richest man in America,” Ogden Phipps (James Cromwell).

But Chenery has a plan to turn the horse farm’s fortunes around. With new foals about to be born, the result of a Chenery-Phipps business transaction, Chenery gets the foal she wants, a male she calls Big Red (later Secretariat). To tap Big Red’s potential, Chenery pursues and eventually hires Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich), a colorful, colorfully dressed, French-Canadian trainer with a history of also-rans and almost-wins. Chenery easily coaxes Laurin out of an early retirement and together with Ron Turcotte (Otto Thorwarth), a jockey, Big Red/ Secretariat begins an impressive run, winning every race as a two-year old.

Secretariat turns on Big Red’s success as a three-year-old, specifically the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Horse Racing (limited to three-year-olds). Not surprisingly, there’s zero suspense in whether Secretariat will win the Triple Crown, so Wallace ties Secretariat’s winning to Chenery’s financial fortunes, specifically a massive estate tax. Chenery comes up with a plan to sell shares in Secretariat (or, more accurately, Secretariat’s seed) to raise enough money to continue training for the Triple Crown (the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes), the first in 25 years. With Phipp’s help, she does, leaving Wallace to take Secretariat and, by extension, the audience, through his paces, race-by-race, using tight close-ups and Gladiator-style open aperture work to bring us into each race.

Semi-exciting race footage, however, isn’t enough to save Secretariat from Wallace and screenwriter Mike Rich’s (The Nativity Story) Radio, The Rookie, Finding Forrester) heavy-handed, on-the-nose dialogue, overbroad performances, and an over-emphatic score. Lane gives one of her weaker performances, underlining every line of faux-profound dialogue or over-animating her facial features to convey Chenery’s emotional response to the minor and major problems standing between her and Secretariat winning the Triple Crown. Maybe Lane, seeing Bullock take the Academy Award for Best Actress last year for The Blind Side, decided that bigger was better when it came to her performance. Wallace certainly did nothing to restrain her performance or anyone else’s for that matter.

But "Secretariat’s" failings don’t stop there. While the early 1970s setting means Wallace can insert unobjectionable commentary about gender (as in “gender discrimination/sexism is bad”), he obviously didn’t pause and think when it came to the depiction of Eddie Sweat (Nelsan Ellis), Secretariat’s semi-literate, African-American groom. As portrayed by Ellis, Sweat is practically a Stepin Fetchit character, incapable of anything except obsequious behavior. Wallace and Rich give Sweat a morning-before-the-race inspiration line. It’s delivered to no one in particular (he’s alone on the racetrack), but inspirational it’s not. It’s embarrassing and cringe inducing for all its racial insensitivity.

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originally posted: 10/09/10 00:00:00
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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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