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Review: Secretariat

Horse sense? Lane, Malkovich keep it sweet and simple
By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  October 6, 2010
2.5 2.5 Stars


Secretariat | Directed by Randall Wallace | Written by Mike Rich | with Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Otto Thorwarth, Dylan Walsh, Dylan Baker, Margo Martindale, Nelsan Ellis, Scott Glenn, James Cromwell, Fred Dalton Thompson, and Drew Roy | Walt Disney Pictures | 116 minutes
Anyone who saw Secretariat power down the homestretch to win the 1973 Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths is likely of the opinion that he or she witnessed the greatest performance ever by a thoroughbred on a racetrack. But fast horses don't automatically make for good movies. Back in 2003, Universal turned Seabiscuit into the champion of the little guy. Now, Disney has turned Secretariat into the horse who can "go the distance," save the family farm, and fulfill the dream of millions for a Triple Crown winner. Mike Rich's screenplay (which was suggested by William Nack's book Secretariat: The Making of a Champion) goes straight to the cliché factory, with duds like "Life is ahead of you; if you don't run at it, you don't know how far you can go" and "You've taught our children what it means to be a real woman." What keeps the film out of the claiming ranks is a tough Diane Lane as Secretariat's owner and an over-the-top John Malkovich as his trainer.

Indeed, Secretariat is as much Penny Tweedy's story as it is her horse's. It's the late '60s, her father, utilities magnate Christopher Chenery (Scott Glenn), is failing, and so is his Meadow Stable. Penny is a Denver housewife with three kids and little apparent interest in racing, but she flies to Virginia, recruits French-Canadian trainer Lucien Laurin and French-Canadian jockey Ron Turcotte (real-life jockey Otto Thorwarth), and — against the advice of her husband (Dylan Walsh) and her brother (Dylan Baker) — keeps the stable going. When her father dies, a $6 million estate tax looms, but a stubborn Penny persists, syndicating two-year-old champion Secretariat's breeding rights for that amount. The rest, with the occasional setback, is racing history, as Secretariat wins the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and finally the Belmont.

Not that we get to see the real thing. As in Seabiscuit, the re-creations are fragmented Chicago style, with lots of thundering hooves and flaring nostrils and close-ups of equine eyeballs. No whips are brandished — the jockeys don't even drive their horses to the wire. (The idea must have been that no animal would be abused in the making of the film, but the result looks as if the jocks had all bet on one another's horses.) And to listen to the re-created call of the various races, you'd think Secretariat was the only horse running — as he nears the Belmont finish line, the track announcer screams, "Ride him, Ronnie, ride him!"

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  Topics: Reviews , Horse Racing, John Malkovich, Diane Lane,  More more >
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7 Comments / Add Comment


I left the theater singing oh crappy day.This is undoubtedly the worst race movie I have evr attempted to sit through.
Posted: October 09 2010 at 7:06 PM


Shame on Diane Lane for trying to bring Romanticism back to the ugly and cruel human sport of horse racing, as if horses themselves can’t wait to be on the front cover of a magazine. Horse racing should be condemed for what it is, a cruel and horrendous way to satisfy the thirst of barbarians, by genetically modifying the most beautiful animals on the planet and forcing them into a life of over exhersion, beatings, broken legs, and ultimately slaughter for food somewhere in Japan. Thousands of horses a year, go to slaughter from our American race tracks, How romantic is that really?? The ones who dont make it on the cover of Newsweek, are left for dead, starved, beaten, abused, and shot, or sometimes forced into making a Hollywood movie, such as Secretariat. As far as the point made that “Secretariat’s triumphs on the track”, no horse feels that way or would voluntarily make up its mind to be in horse racing, that is a HUMAN want. Once again Hollywood has imposed its own personality on an animal then proceeded to make it into a cartoon-like figure, dancing to the beat of a love story Let’s put this movie into perspective for what iti IS: propaganda and thirst of rmoney to bring animal abuse back to the race track and the movie theaters.
Posted: October 10 2010 at 10:46 AM


Cleary you people know nothing about horse racing. In KY thoroughbreds are treated like royalty; huge barns, swimming pools, best food etc. And Secretariat LOVED to run. He was a big goofy horse that loved people and the sport, which is why he decimated his competition. This was a GREAT movie. Diane Lane did a great job of portraying Penny. It was the 70's people; she took on the "boys" who ran the racing industry and she kicked their butts. VanityDog- you know nothing about this horse, but he lived out his years in comfort on a retirement farm where his adoring fans came to pay him homage.
Posted: October 16 2010 at 7:54 PM


I am one of the guys singing to Kelly McGillis in the Barscene of the movie "Topgun" and I thought this movie ROCKED!!! I was in 11th grade living in Miami, Florida when this story really transpired and love horseracing, and moreso, A GOOD MOVIE!!! Especially when they have such rock solid actors as Diane Lane (from my other favorite movie "The Perfect Storm"), Fred Thompson (hopefully to be our President some day) and John Malkovich who is simply the coolest walking and acting enterprise to me since the Beatles...he is his own entity, funny, hilarious, complex, scary at times, but always a total BLAST!!! SUPER MOVIE, SUPER CAST, SUPER SHOW!!! BTW...I live near Sun City, AZ (I'm 54) it was a Sunday afternoon and the place was packed with kids, parents, grandparents AND GREAT GRANDPARENTS!!! Hats OFF!!! I hope it wins all around as the best of the best!!!
Posted: October 18 2010 at 12:28 AM


Thank you, KYBred... the cynicism of the first two postings was out of line. Giving kudos where they're due, to the film, to Diane Lane, to Penny [*especially* during those years], and to Secretariat is what's most appropriate here. I loved your postings. There's enough grit around these days to construct a mountain in the middle of nowhere... seeing the sheer determination of a woman and a horse as rightly portrayed in this movie was exactly what I wanted to see when I paid my admission.
Posted: October 18 2010 at 2:45 PM


[That would be posting, singular not plural, KYBred. It may be that the previous two writers here weren't witness to the dramatic differences in attitudes toward women [aptly portrayed, and absent exaggeration, in the movie] back then. I didn't need the 'reality' shots ~ the one of Penny at the end was sufficient. The concept and recounting of this magnificent horse and owner, who DID care, was more than sufficient. Attacking horse racing, as a whole, is certainly appropriate in another arena; yet, this film was about a horse who, as you said, lived out his days in comfort... and "Secretariat's owner entered into a syndication deal that precluded the horse racing past age three." The message of "whether you're a man, woman, or animal, believe in yourself and know that you can do it!" manifested everywhere in this movie. With everything that dominates the waves, feeling really good these days... such a welcome respite it was for me.
Posted: October 18 2010 at 2:59 PM


VanityDog has a point.
I read about jump horses, and how bad they are treated. I saw the movie Secretariat, and I loved it !! I wish I was able to see Secretariat race in person however, I did the second best thing, I purchased the DVD that told all about Secretariat and showed all the races he had.
Posted: October 27 2010 at 6:46 AM
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