Predictable but generally heartwarming, “Secretariat” exudes an old-fashioned glamour that works well as a feel good offer. It passes through a sentimental, formulaic, manipulative, and “Disneyfied” route, but it does so with grace and value. Amidst all its realistic visuals, this Disney drama about a historical horse and its amazing owner allows the sweet and safe tale of triumph to provide an inspirational story almost at the level of a fantasy genre.
Check Out: ‘Secretariat’ Official Photos Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures
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This glossy-coated biopic is about the celebrated racehorse Secretariat and Penny Chenery-Tweedy, the woman who brought new life and energy to her parents’ horse farm, lost her family along the way, then got them back together in a happily ever after story of striving, believing, and taking risks. Her feisty spirit captures an era when a woman is indirectly required to merely do homemaking jobs and not dedicate herself to a tough career outside the home.
“Secretariat” stumbles on a couple of clichéd parts, but its thoroughly touching and entertaining demeanor champions on its emotionally refined production value. In so doing, this nostalgic horse-racing yarn hits the finish line with a strong kick to the heart.
This amiable crowd pleaser has a welcoming glow that keeps up with its setting. It clearly knows where to go. It’s not an art film digging into the deepest themes and meanings. It doesn’t lay down all the facts and complications in the story of Penny and Big Red (a.ka. Secretariat). In its very essence, it’s simply an inspirational drama coated with an old-style Hollywood feel for an audience willing to embrace the sadness and redemption of the struggling characters. It features a soap opera type of presentation done in a cinematic level.
Although everyone knows the ending, getting towards the film’s resolution is not a mere drag. The viewers can find themselves cheering for Big Red. They want to ease the character’s pain of losing a loved one. They laugh at the eccentricity of the trainer. They empathize with the loyal employee. They want to uplift the downhearted jockey. This traditional film settles for a polished mediocrity that earns great appeal because of the emotional weight if offers.
Director Randall Wallace and writer Mike Rich puts genuine tension and suspense in the narrative. While many aspects of the movie are noticeably calculated, the treatment and editing for it are skillfully done. Recognizing its own limits, “Secretariat” beats its predictability by transforming its profound corniness into something wonderfully presented.
The era’s turbulent politics and the race against all odds clichés tend to work together for pure heartstring-plucking… At the same time, the races are genuinely heart-pounding as if there is really a tight race where the audience doesn’t know who will win. The suspension of disbelief is there even without putting into the simple recipe the additional tension and complexity.
Aptly honoring the memory of a great racehorse, the racing scenes are well-crafted and thrilling amidst the preordained outcome. Wallace works as a director of moments in this film as he parades selected confrontations with substantial dramatics, then punctuates the racing moments with the horse’s mystique without trying too hard. Incorporating the horse’s perspectives in selected scenes, it reaches the point of saying that the horse has truly become an actor offering a great acting performance for the movie. On a personal note, it could have also worked if this device paved way to another route that the film could have passed through – a more artistic play at the perspective of the horse. Yet, it’s something the studios wouldn’t probably be risking into.
Adding up Diane Lane, John Malkovich, and Big Red in this film equates to getting the Triple Crown. Indeed, “Secretariat” earns its best accolades through the genial nature of the acting performances. Wielding like an experienced jockey, this sports movie reflects every breath of a racing horse being a cinematically beautiful thing.
Diane Lane inhabits the role of Penny Chenery, a housewife and mother who takes over her ailing father’s Virginia-based Meadow Stables. She validates this movie, based on a true story, as she imbibes a character that is no less than a brave woman who has ultimate faith in her horse. She manages to navigate a male-dominated business and foster the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years. John Malkovich renders a performance as the eccentric trainer Lucien Laurin. The rest of the supporting roles contribute to the success of the film: Dylan Walsh as Jack Tweedy, Margo Martindale as Miss Ham, Nelsan Ellis as Eddie Sweat, Otto Thorwarth as Ronnie Turcotte, Fred Dalton Thompson as Bull Hancock, James Cromwell as Ogden Phipps, Scott Glenn as Chris Chenery, Michael Harding as E.V. Benjamin, and Richard Fullerton as Robert Kleburg.
“Secretariat” is a conventional story that is conventionally told. Yet, it is filled with refined dramatic scenes, comic undertones, and a number of stand-up-and-cheer moments where the viewers tend to feel there is a great, historical racehorse happening in front of them.