Secretariat

6 Nov

Title: Secretariat
Year: 2010
Director: Randall Wallace
Writer: Mike Rich, based on the novel by Wiliam Nack
Starring: Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Amanda Michalka, Dylan Walsh, Kevin Connolly, Dylan Baker, Nelsan Ellis
MPAA Rating: PG, brief mild language
Runtime: 123 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 67%

 

Secretariat is one of those inspirational dramas that Disney does so well, kind of advertised as this year’s The Blind Side, swapping football for horse racing. I’m not the hugest fan of The Blind Side, I thought it was good and Sandra Bullock’s performance was great, but I thought it got much more hype and credit than I personally would have given it. Secretariat, on the other hand, I found to be amazing, a really heartwarming tale that works on every level, sure, there are moments in which the melodramatic factor is a bit too much, that’s inevitable in these films, but for the most part this one knows how to rein itself in and deliver tremendous results.

There will doubtless be many comparisons to 2003’s Seabiscuit, the last amazing film about the world of thoroughbred racing, if I may offer my two cents I’ll go ahead and say Secretariat is just as good, if not better than that one. That’s because the story of the horse and the woman who believed in him is outstanding, and what’s best is that you can tell from this film that everyone involved absolutely loved this story and were real passionate about telling it right. Seriously, this is a labour of love, done by people who clearly loved the source material, William Nack, who’s the expert on Secretariat and wrote the book the film is based on served as a consultant on set, and I’m guessing his fingerprints are all over the film, because he gets us deeper into the story he knows the best. I mean, I knew the story beforehand, but the film did so much more than just tell the facts, and it got us submerged into the fantastic story, personally I found myself getting teary-eyed in some occasions, I mean, just look at that scene when Secretariat starts kicking ass at the Belmont, that was amazing.

Secretariat, by the way, was not the underdog of the race, it’s just that the story behind him is amazing, and the film does a great way of showing just how special Secretariat was, and how amazing his story with Penny Chenery, Diane Lane’s character, was. Penny knew there was something extraordinary about the horse, and really everyone who knew the horse felt that too, especially the groom, Eddie Sweat, who’s a big part of this story. Also a big part of it is the trainer, Lucien Laurin, who was persuaded out of retirement by Penny to train Secretariat.

We know many of the facts of this story, we know the statistics, we know the records that hold to this very day at the racetrack, but we didn’t know that much about the emotional background to the story. Sure, if you had done your research you would have known the names, the events that transpired, but in the film we get to see deeper into the lives of the people. And this all work because of the direction by Randall Wallace, who allows us to get a lot of information about racing, allows us to care about racing and to care about these people, who we get to see in their day-to-day business, and we get swept into their lives.

The casting is amazing. Diane Lane especially makes this one feel so genuine. She’s an actress that I think can pretty much play any sort of role she wants, and she always has an air of undeniable confidence to her, and that of course aids her performance of Penny tremendously, because Penny is a smart woman who has a lot of faith in herself and in what she believes in. She knew Secretariat would become a legend, she knew how to collaborate with Lucien and Eddie, she knew how to stand up to her non-believers. The performance is really good, I don’t think it’ll be good enough to score Ms. Lane her second Oscar nod (the first was for Unfaithful), but it probably won’t come that far off from doing just that.

And much like Penny, the movie as a whole has a helluva lot of faith in itself, it tells us everything we need to know and trusts us to invest in it emotionally, and when a movie is as well-made as this one that’s a safe gamble to take. The racing scenes are spell-binding, movies have known since their creation that horses can make for some beautiful scenes, and there are some amazing ones here. The acting is top-notch. And the story is amazing, yes, it’s still a very Disney film that tells us to seek out our dreams and live them fully, but the film feels incredibly genuine and never gets too corny, delivering a great end result.

Secretariat will most likely go down as my favorite inspirational film of the year, the quality of it is impeccable and the casting was spot-on, and I will go ahead and tell everyone I can to go check it out if they want a heart-tugging film experience. As I said, this is this year’s The Blind Side, only better, it won’t get as much attention or as much money as that one did, but it certainly should, this is a real story told really. Just a terrific film through and through.

Grade: B+

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