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My grandmother was a parent during the '50's and liked everything neat
and clean and in its place. Heaven forbid if things get too out of
hand; too "real". I have waited my entire life for Hollywood to tell
Secretariat's story and after watching Disney's Secretariat my heart
remains unsatisfied. It was a good, "feel good" movie, but "good" is
the keyword. I felt like Grandma edited this movie. Again, it is a good
movie with some interjections of great cinematography, yet Secretariat
was a GREAT horse and deserved a GREAT movie. This was an Oscar winning
story, with an Oscar winning cast, but the script was emotionally
impotent. There were no risks and risk is what horse racing is all
about. The movie is so safe and there wasn't anything safe about the
facts that surround this horse and his rise to be the greatest race
horse that ever lived.
Still today, when I watch Secretariat run on YouTube, I cry!!! I'm not sure why, but the tears flow from the depths of my being. Rationally, I try to tell myself that he is just a horse, but something overcomes me every time, no matter how many times I watch him run. That overwhelming surge of emotion is what this story deserved. If you've ever been in the presence of a great horse, you will know what I am talking about. They are strong and confident. You can feel their aura. There is a low rolling thunder of excitement when you are near them. Talk to the people who were there. Read the first hand accounts of their emotional state when they saw this horse run. He was mesmerizing, captivating, unexplainably breathtaking. The audience deserved to feel the thunder roll through them in every scene.
I expected so much more from director Randall Wallace. The power and emotion of Braveheart, We Were Soldiers, Pearl Harbor, The Man in the Iron Mask, is what Secretariat deserves. Where was that? I'm not sure what research he did for this movie and how much his hands were tied by the real life characters or the studio, but the main character became the background and what was in the forefront was a "sugar coated" conflict of a woman with a driving passion and the place society and her family was trying to lock her into; however, even her passion didn't spill out onto the audience as it should have. I felt like the accomplishments of Penny Chenery and Secretariat have been shrunk down and placed into a nice, neat little box fit for a good little housewife and her sweet little horse. I felt as if I was the one being squelched, because I wanted so badly for everyone to share the emotion I feel at the sheer audaciousness when this horse ran. To accomplish what they accomplished, he and his owner had to be completely audacious to rise above the negativity and overwhelming odds surrounding them.
Diane Lane is one of my favorite actresses; however, her role left me doubting the character. For example, when a woman talks to her horse, she does more than look into his eye for a few seconds and say, "Well OK then". When a woman truly needs to know something from her horse she breathes him in, they breathe each other in, as their souls entwine and one knows the other. You will see it on his face and you will see it on her face, without human words being spoken. This is a rare and special event, but it happens, and it could have carried this movie. If you have seen Diane Lane in "Unfaithful" you will realize this is an actress that could translate this kind of communication and emotion to the screen.
The audience should have been allowed to feel the emotional range that surrounds all involved in preparing a horse for the greatest races any thoroughbred will ever run. Just watch horse racing on television and you will see real raw emotion that these people explode with at the end of the race. So much was on the line for everyone involved and yet throughout the movie everyone handled the stress with subdued emotion, never getting too far off the scale. Just when you thought someone was going to show some real feelings, they apologized for it. Real life is just as ugly as it is beautiful. Without the dark of night, the brightest stars would never beam their intense beauty upon us. Every masterpiece must have its extreme contrasts to fulfill the emotional needs of its audience.
I'm not blaming anyone. I am sure everyone involved did their best. I am simply sharing with the reader my disappointment in what I thought would be a thrilling tribute to a horse so deserving.
Ron Turcotte said the film captured the story "pretty well". I ask you, is "pretty well" good enough for the greatest race horse who ever ran on the track? Secretariat's heart was two and a half times the size of a normal horse's heart; I feel the portrayal of his story should have been two and a half times the size of any regular movie. He gave us everything he had when he ran the Belmont; thirty-one lengths ahead of Sham who was an amazing, record breaking horse in his own right. Don't we owe it to him, to give him everything we've got, to see that generations to come understand the events that transpired to make him who he is? Have we as a culture become so jaded that there can be no magic in the truth? Can the epic only be found in fiction? I don't believe it. I believe that purity of a moment of perfection forever locked in time is where magic can be found and that magic is why it brings inspiration and tears to the eyes of the soul who seeks it.
Greetings again from the darkness. The story of Secretariat is
legendary in the world of thoroughbred racing. Being a sports fan, it
is always fascinating to witness domination by a singular athlete -
Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Roger Federer. Secretariat was the Michael
Jordan of racing. In 1973, Big Red dominated racing like no other.
What makes this even more amazing is that Secretariat is actually the second most interesting story ... his owner, Penny Chenery Tweedy (played here by Diane Lane), was his match in competitive spirit. This Disney movie actually spends as much time on Ms. Tweedy as it does the fabulous horse.
Disney does what Disney does best. This is an all out feel-good, rah-rah movie in the vein of "Seabiscuit", "The Rookie", "Rudy" and even "Hoosiers". Don't expect in-depth analysis of the racing world or horse training or even horse farm operations. This movie is made to deliver a warm fuzzy via the perseverance of a strong-willed lady and an incredibly majestic animal.
Expect some over-the-top touches such as John Malkovich's portrayal of trainer Lucen Laurin, horse-whispering by Ms. Lane, and plenty of heart-string tugging as is customary from the fine folks at Disney. Expect historical facts to be treated a bit lax in some scenes (no mention of 1972 Derby winner Riva Ridge, also from the Chenery stables). Expect none of that to matter as this is a crowd-pleaser, not a documentary.
In addition to Mr. Malkovich and Ms. Lane, there is some fine support work from Fred Thompson, James Cromwell and Nelsan Ellis (so great as Lafayette in True Blood). Directed by Randall Wallace, whose most recent directorial effort was 2002's "We Were Soldiers", this is entertainment for all ages and an easy introduction to the champion that was Secretariat.
Secretariat is not only the first film in many years where both old and
young can share the same theater; it contains the elements that make
you both laugh and cry as most good movies should. From peaceful
mornings at sunrise we experience exhilarating horse racing that brings
pensive waiting for results of a race already in the history books.
I agree with the Movieguide comments: "SECRETARIAT is a very uplifting, inspiring, exciting movie about a true story, the story of a determined woman who raises one of the most successful, dynamic racehorses of all time. SECRETARIAT is stirring and joyful, with many references to God, Jesus Christ and the Bible and a pro-capitalist message celebrating American values " Now, what's wrong with this picture? It is refreshingly entertaining.
The movie is great for families, as there were a number of children in the theater who really enjoyed the film. There isn't any off-color language or scenes, and it is well acted and well made. My main complaint is that it really seemed to be the Penny Tweedy story, and not that much about Secretariat. If you want to take your children to a well made movie with horses, this is a good film. If you want to learn about the greatest racehorse of the 20th century, go to you tube and watch old clips of the actual horse itself. If you're looking for a good movie about a horse, buy or rent Seabiscuit. That movie tells much more of the story about the horse.
SECRETARIAT is not just a great great sports movie it is just a great movie full-stop. EVery about this film is spot on. The story is wonderfully crafted and well told. The photography is beautiful and classy. The acting is phenomenal. DIANE LANE is in Oscar form as Penny Chenery the owner of Secretariat. She owns the film and gives a very powerful and realistic portrayal. JOHN MALKOVICH is also superb in support. The racing scenes are simply stunning. You are there in the race. It is very well done (and doesn't resort to cheap "shaky-cam" stuff. A very moving and enjoyable movie. It's one of the best sports related movies EVER and comes very highly recommended!
"It is beautiful to watch a fine horse gallop, the long stride, the
rush of the wind as he passesmy heart beats quicker to the thud of the
hoofs and I feel his strength." Richard Jefferies
Secretariat is no exception. It's the story of the fastest horse in history, first known as Big Red, who went on to win horse racing's triple crown on 1973, a feat not accomplished in 25 years. After that he sired 600 foals, much to the delight of his investors, the first to invest solely in a stud future.
But then I love Seabiscuit (2003) for it depression-era cheerleading. This is what American filmmakers do well--a rouser with messages, bigscreen chases, and sentimentality for the little guy. Seabiscuit is Rocky for horses, a suspenseful crowd pleaser with characters such as the whisperer played by Chris Cooper, who said, "You don't throw a whole life away just because it's banged up a little." The thought resonates for almost everyone in the film, a tribute to unity of theme and expression of actor.
Similarly there's more than just a racing film in Secretariat; after all National Velvet has a more interesting story and a younger heroine in Elizabeth Taylor, but that was decades ago. This true story is about the grit of Penny Chenery, who took over Virginia's Meadow Stables from her father and beat the male-dominated odds.
This quintessential Disney movie depicts her as tough and loving, a mother and a businesswoman, who can serve as a model for young women aspiring to reach great goals even in this liberated 21st century, which still has a ways to go before it expunges fully the sexism scourge.
The photography is bracing, often putting the camera right by the prancing hoofs or mid-level close to the steed's haunches. Although nothing new here, it is still exciting fare. Because we all know going in that our horse will win the crown, director Randall Wallace is especially successful in keeping us interested and worried for Secretariat.
Disclosure: I like most Hollywood horse-racing stories.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I went into this movie not expecting anything brilliant, but a fun
movie that portrayed a great horse which is exactly what it
was(especially since it's a Disney movie). I had no problem that the
story was mainly about Penny Chenery and what she did, my problem was
that they took the most memorable and moving race of all time (The
Belmont) and turned it into a rushed scene. I felt as though they did
not spend enough time on Secretariat's magic that happened that day at
Belmont. The fact that the race wasn't recorded at Belmont isn't the
problem, because there are so many other problems with this scene. The
music was just silly - no emotion whatsoever (when I watch the actual
footage of this race, there is SO much emotion!). They could have made
this scene far better than it was. Maybe I'm comparing it too much to
the Match Race and the last race scene from the movie Sea Biscuit - now
those were scenes and music put together that gave me goosebumps and
tears to my eyes. Secretariat just gets a quick race scene with some
silly music as he comes down the last turn. Not too emotional if you
Diane Lane did a wonderful job as Penny Chenery and you are always rooting for her throughout the entire movie. I can't say the same for her family. Her husband was an ignorant jerk, as was her brother. And why did her peace loving hippie daughter get the extra screen time that Secretariat deserved!? That really irked me. Before this movie came out, so many people were assuming that Sham, Secretariats biggest rival, was not going to be mentioned at all. Well that certainly was not the case as they did a good job at letting the audience know just who Sham was, which really impressed me.
I own race horses and I watch actual footage on youtube of the great ones, especially Secretariat, and I get chills and get a tear to my eye just watching him run (mainly the Derby and the Belmont), and I thought for sure there would be at least one time in the movie where I would get emotional, but no, not one scene had that effect on me. If you know a lot about horse racing and/or truly see how much of a wonderful horse Secretariat was, you will not think this movie is up to par. I also think the movie Sea Biscuit involved more emotion towards the horse from the audience more so than Secretariat does. If you are aware of how great of a horse he was, you will love him, but if you're going into this movie not knowing much about Secretariat, the director fails to bring you emotionally involved with him. I will most likely buy this movie when it comes out because overall I did enjoy it, but I just wish it could have been better.
Simply put, like my title says, Secretariat (the horse himself) was nothing short of great, and this movie is decent at best, and I'm sorry, but the best race horse of all time does not deserve "good" or decent" ... he deserves "GREAT."
Secretariat is directed by Randall Wallace and written by Mike Rich and
Sheldon Turner. It stars Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Margo Martindale,
Amanda Michalka, Dylan Walsh, Scott Glenn, Kevin Connolly, Dylan Baker,
James Cromwell and Drew Roy. Music is by Nick Glennie-Smith and
cinematography by Dean Semler.
With the success and quality of production that came with 2003's Seabiscuit, it was perhaps inevitable that someone would turn their hand to making a film about a horse that many agree is the greatest American horse of all time. With Disney funding the cash flow and an A list cast assembled, Secretariat the movie is every inch the professional production you would expect. However, thematically it's surprising that the horse is very much secondary to the story of his owner, Penny Chenery (Lane).
Chenery's story as written on the film version page, is a worthy one to tell, for sure. After suffering family bereavements, she stood firm after winning the horse on a coin toss to guide the horse to the greatest of American horse racing triumphs. This in a male dominated sport dominated by chauvinists. Further more, Chenery had to hold her own family together whilst running the Chenery ranch. Inspirational woman for sure, and Lane is naturally steely in the role, but there just isn't great human interest drama crafted by director Wallace to warrant the film being primarily about the good lady.
Naturally, when the horse racing takes centre stage it's gripping and exciting, the race segments very well filmed, but we already knew that Secretariat was an awesome horse, how he got to be that way isn't known to us. Malkovich plays trainer Lucien Laurin with moody flamboyance, but we see next to nothing of his training of the horse! It's one of the many oversights that stop the film competing with Seabiscuit. It may seem unfair to compare the two, but the makers of Seabiscuit got the blend right whilst cleaving close to the facts to tell their story.
There's also the controversy factor, the fudging of the facts to suit the makers ends, where some characterisations have been pointedly argued to be incorrect and a deviation from truths to the point we don't have the real story of what made Secretariat so great. Whilst it spins a rags to riches story when in reality it wasn't, Riva Ridge anyone? Where's the Preakness clocking controversy? These facts would have boosted the film no end, but I guess this is the price we pay for having Disney funding the film supposedly about the magnificent beast in the title.
Come the home straight the music does swirl and the cheers go loud, and undeniably the uplift factor takes a hand, but there's too much wrong all told to make this a great picture. I have to say it, go watch Seabiscuit instead. 6.5/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have a tendency to give a film the benefit of the doubt. Only twice
in my life have I ever walked out of a theater in the middle of a
showing and one of those times I left because I was annoyed at the girl
I was seeing at the time. The only film I couldn't bear to see through
to the end was an old Betsy Russell B movie I saw in junior high the
name of which I hope I never recall.
Had I been in a theater rather than watching a Blu-Ray of 'Secretariat' this probably would have been my third walkout. It is a truly horrible film.
Actually I bought the disc because the film should have had a free pass straight into my short list of all time favorites. Things the film had going for it:
1. The subject matter. Secretariat was arguably the greatest racehorse of all time.
2. Casting: John Malkovich and James Cromwell are among my favorite actors and Dianne Lane has almost attained Katie Hepburn status in my personal opinion (I used to say that if I could fill out a table for five with four media celebrities they'd be Dianne Lane, George Carlin, Tim Burton, and Charles Laughton). Might have been bad chemistry but certainly worth the chance.
3. Storyline. Meadow Stables, awash with red ink in a game for only the deepest of deep pocket players, gets a new management team of Chenery, Lauren, and Turcotte after the illness of her father. This trio goes on to save the farm while accomplishing a feat never before done in racing; the winning of back-to-back Kentucky Derbys with the same owner, trainer,and jockey combo. Riva Ridge won in '72 and Secretariat in '73.
4. Timing: The movie going public was already predisposed to like the film because of the groundbreaking accomplished by the 2003 'Seabiscuit' and a number of less known (but often quite good) efforts with 'Phar Lap' in 1983, 'Ruffian' in '07, and possibly even Coppola's 'Black Stallion' back in 1979.
Disney proved, however that you really can make a sow's ear out of a silk purse. They've produced a formulaic, flat and all too often insipid retelling of what should have been a terrific story. 'Seabiscuit' often pulled at my heartstrings, 'Secretariat' attacked my gag reflex. Things I truly hated:
1. The list of anachronisms and errors (which are legion) is fairly well compiled on IMDb so I won't be redundant but some of them are so deliberate and to anyone interested in horse racing so offensive they certainly belie the movie's tag-line 'The Impossible True Story'. Better it should have been 'The Impossible To Believe This Nonsense Is Anywhere Close To The True Story'. Secretariat didn't save Meadow Stables, Riva Ridge did.
2. Kudos for the most spectacularly inappropriate use of 'Oh Happy Day' in the stretch run. That one really got to me. There was nothing religious or divine about the unusual physical anomaly which allowed a creature to be born with a pump (heart) 2 ½ times the mass typical for his species thus oxygenating his blood far more quickly.
3. I have the utmost respect for Penny Chenery but she should have clued Randall Wallace in on the fact that a camera panning the grandstands on that day in that racetrack would be hard pressed to find a bareheaded woman much less a Derby Entry owner sans hat!
In a change of pace, I decided to watch this inspirational true-life story of a woman's deciding to keep the title character horse in ownership instead of selling to the highest bidder because of the animal's potential and not the usual comedy films I view with my movie theatre working friend. We both enjoyed those race scenes that involved Secretariat that showcased both his struggles and triumphs. On the drama front, while there are some compellingly played scenes of quiet desperation and of occasional conflict, it's the uplifting parts that really gets to the heart of the matter. Only thing I really have a quibble with is some of the lines betray the time period like that character played by Fred Dalton Thompson wouldn't compare something to Super Fly since that movie came out in 1972 and his scene takes place in 1969. And how about the kids not noticeably aging during the four-year setting. Otherwise, Secretariat is a quality feel-good movie that one always expects from The Disney Company and is recommended.
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