I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to expect going into Secretariat. Disney seems to be marketing this film as though it’s The Blind Side (But with a Horse), and as though it’s absolutely nothing like The Other Very Successful Racehorse Movie that Starts with S and Ends with T. The truth is, Secretariat is neither of those things – it’s a sports movie, pure and simple. And a pretty good one too.
Based on the true story, Secretariat tells the story of “housewife” (a word that is used as an insult multiple times in the movie) Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) agrees to take over her dying father’s Virginia horse farm/stables, despite her lack of knowledge, experience, and manliness. Against all odds, Chenery, with the help of veteran trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich, playing a 1970s version of himself), navigates the business, makes a few enemies, irritates her husband, and ultimately delivers the greatest racehorse of all time. (Although one could argue the horse was the one doing all the work.)
The film, like the horse it is named for, gets off to a slow start, but eventually finds its stride. All the sports movie genre characteristics are here – the ragtag team of underdogs, the coming-out-of-retirement-for-one-last-shot-at-glory trainer, the embarrassing early defeat, the family left behind in favor of the sport, the villains who throw down gauntlets. The racing scenes are the high point of the movie – the sequences are well edited, fast paced, and they make you feel like you’re a part of the action. In a way, they’re almost too good, because it sometimes makes the rest of the film feel slow by comparison. Overall, Secretariat is a really fun story (with some serious notes) and it makes for a good movie.
Secretariat’s biggest shortcoming is actually its star – the bipedal one. Diane Lane gives this role her all and does lots of acting in this movie, probably because she’s trying to win a race of her own. The problem is, it shows, and her performance often roams into overacting territory, complete with huffing and stomping and fist-pumping and sobbing. It may not be her fault – poor Diane probably wanted to be in The Blind Side (But with a Horse), but this just isn’t that movie.
As far as the Disney Inspirational Sports Movie genre goes, Secretariat doesn’t have the charm of The Greatest Game Ever Played or the emotional punch of Miracle (a movie that still makes me cry happy tears every time I watch it), but it is one of those films that makes for a great family night at the movies. I encourage you to check it out this weekend, and let us know what you thought in the comments.
Secretariat is rated PG and is now playing in theatres everywhere.
The Disney Chick regularly blogs (often about Disney movies) at www.thedisneychick.com.