film review: Secretariat

by Leonard Maltin
October 8, 2010 4:01 AM
5 Comments
  • |

The secret of this film’s success is that it isn’t just the saga of a famous, prize-winning horse; it’s also the story of his owner, a suburban housewife and mom who stepped into a man’s world and took charge of an animal she believed to be a champion. It documents a time in the late 1960s and early 70s, when social change was in the air, and women’s roles in society were changing, if slowly. Mike Rich’s screenplay captures the time quite well, as do all the visual details onscreen. Those qualities—plus an exceptionally good cast—lift this above the norm for sports movies and underdog tales.

I can’t think of a better role for Diane Lane, who’s (finally) come into her own in recent years after decades of solid work. She is effortlessly convincing as a woman whose devotion to her father, the owner of a Virginia horse farm, and single-minded determination to succeed gave her strength she’d never tapped before. She’s surrounded by equally expert actors, including—

—John Malkovich, James Cromwell, Scott Glenn, Nelsan Ellis, Dylan Baker, and the wonderful Margo Martindale.

The racing scenes are exceptional, and reveal how ingenuity and a determination to reinvent the wheel can sometimes pay off. I don’t recall seeing a horse race filmed from such a low angle before—or a point-of-view shot that makes you feel as if you’re sitting on top of the horse itself. Cinematographer Dean Semler and director Randall Wallace deserve credit for raising the bar, along with their sound team (including the multi-Oscar-nominated Kevin O’Connell), in these sequences.

Perhaps the most surprising achievement is that Secretariat creates drama and even suspense although we already know the outcome. The story droops a bit during the second act, but it still works. Because it tells a feel-good story in an easily digestible form, it may strike some people as old-fashioned. I have a feeling it will play especially well to mature moviegoers, but I would hate to see such a good piece of work be dismissed as just a movie for old codgers. It deserves a wider audience. And whatever your feelings about the value of the film, there is no disputing the fact that its raw material is one of the great sports stories of the 20th century.

  • |

More: Film Reviews

You might also like:
Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

5 Comments

  • leslie | October 14, 2010 2:52 AMReply

    The film was good, not exceptional. However, Diane Lane is amazing in the role of Ms Tweedy. The racing scenes were filmed in a way I have never seen before. The sounds, the view. I felt almost as though I was riding the horse! Loved Nelsan Ellis & John Malkovich also.

  • Leo Pando | October 12, 2010 11:55 AMReply

    When I heard Disney was producing Bill Nack's great bio on the big red
    stud, a big red flag went up. As my idealistic nature is not
    completely dead (I'm glad to say), I was hoping for some magic.
    SEABISCUIT is a better horse racing movie. THE BLACK STALLION is a
    better horse movie period. SECRETARIAT should have been a combination
    of the two. A story needs a villain or characters with flaws, in
    Secretariat's case it's the people and the social convention of the
    times. As is, there are heart thumping moments, how could there not
    be. What the movie lacked was a director and writer up
    to the challenge of making a movie where the main character is
    inherently difficult to make interesting because he was perfection on
    four legs.

  • ben r | October 12, 2010 10:14 AMReply

    If you like this at all, you have to see the documentary HORSES (2010), out on DVD in the UK, not yet widely available in the US (though it did some festivals at screened at IFC's "Stranger than Fiction").....

  • robert roberts | October 10, 2010 1:44 AMReply

    They really downplay the fact that the trainer and the jockey were Canadian in real life.

    John Malkovich really doesn't cut it as a Quebec frenchman.

  • Dana C | October 8, 2010 7:44 AMReply

    I've always thought that Diane Lane was what one calls "a natural" and I'm so happy to hear this movie lives up to all the scuttlebut I've been hearing about it. That's not to take away from what she does, cuz I'm sure she puts her heart into her work, but I've been watching Diane since she was a kid and I've never seen a false note in her performances. Can't wait to see this one this weekend!

Email Updates

Latest Tweets

Follow us

Most "Liked"

  • Draft Day
  • Joe
  • Only Lovers Left Alive
  • Transcendence
  • Movie Heaven, Courtesy Of TCM


leonardmaltin