Secretariat (2010)

Review by Boniface

During the 1990’s, Disney made a ton of crappy movies. Blank Check, Cool Runnings, Angels in the Outfield, and perhaps worst of all, Inspector Gadget. Thankfully, that era seems to be over, as the company has put out some very well done historical sports films in the past decade, beginning with Remember the Titans in 2000. An even better movie in this genre, one I would even class as phenomenal, was The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005). This was again followed up by the subject of this review, Secretariat (2010, PG), directed by Randall Wallace. If you have never heard of Wallace, he wrote the original screenplay for Braveheart. He went on to fame by directing We Were Soldiers.

Secretariat tells the story of America’s most beloved horse and his meteoric rise to fame in the early 70’s. Much of the story focuses on the personal struggles of Secretariat’s owner, Peggy Tweedy (played by Diane Lane). When her mother dies, Peggy and her brothers take charge of the estate, which includes a vast farm and several valuable racing horses. Though her husband and brother encourage her to sell the farm, Peggy sees that one of the foals about to be born has a potential as a unique race horse that can combine speed and stamina. Peggy brings in retired trainer Lucian Laurin (John Malkovich) to train Secretariat, and from that point we follow his career up to his stunning Triple Crown victory in 1973 and setting records in horse racing that still stand to this day.

The plot of the movie is predictable. Unlikely protagonists finds herself in challenging circumstances. Friends and family tell her she can’t do it. She says she can do it (a lot of encouraging words about believing in yourself). Protagonist works hard, suffers temporary setbacks, but finally overcomes in the film’s climactic depiction of the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Everybody is happy. The end.

Despite its predictable plot (mirroring the two other Disney sports films mentioned above), the movie is quite enjoyable. The plot is not really a problem because everybody already knows Secretariat goes on to become the greatest horse in history. Our interest in not so much in what becomes of Secretariat, but how he gets there. And in that sense, the film is delightful. The casting is very well done. The protagonist takes the lead but does not detract from a strong supporting cast.

Speaking of the supporting cast, as much as I hate to admit it, John Malkovich is actually not that bad in this movie. When I first saw he was involved, I thought the film would ipso facto stink, since John Malkovich is, in my opinion, one of the worst actors of all time. But the film did well in incorporating his dry, expressionless droning into the character of Lucien Laurin, Secretariat’s trainer. It takes skillful screenwriting to successfully cast such a crummy actor.

There is nothing objectionable in this movie. I watched it with all of my kids and we were all entertained (although the horses don’t come into the film until about 25 minutes in, so kids who are expecting to see horses right away might get antsy). There are no language problems; an occasional “idiot” and an phrase about a monkey scratching its butt that my kids kept repeating for three days.

Secretariat is a well cast, well executed film that is inspiring and engaging, despite its predictability.

I give it a 3 tiaras.