Secretariat is good, solid family fare from the company that knows the genre well – Disney. It’s a sweet, simple, root-for-the-underdog message movie that manages to maintain some level of tension and drama despite the fact that we all know how it ends. If you don’t know how it ends, then I apologize for the spoiler. Don’t tell the kids.
The movie is essentially a biopic about the greatest racehorse of all time, Secretariat, and the woman who risked everything to prove him a champion.
While I’d certainly heard of Secretariat, I did not know the story of his owner, Penny Chenery Tweedy (Diane Lane) and a 1968 coin-toss that brought them together.
When Penny and her brother Hollis (Dylan Baker) inherit the family’s struggling horse-breeding farm, they have very different ideas about what to do with it. Hollis wants to sell it off. Penny does not. And as a woman in a good ol’ boys era where business is done in cigar-filled back rooms and gentleman’s clubs, Penny faces an uphill battle. Plus, she’s got a husband and family to tend to hundreds of miles away. But after years of putting her own aspirations aside, the tenacious Penny draws on a combination of smarts and faith to follow her instincts and ‘let it all ride’ on a single horse – the son of Bold Ruler and Somethingroyal – Secretariat (a.k.a. Big Red). It’s a name that was chosen by the elder Mr. Chenery’s long-time secretary, Miss Ham, a key player in Penny’s support team.
John Malkovich adds a much-needed dose of humor and heart to the movie as Secretariat’s colorful trainer, Lucien Laurin, who reluctantly agrees to come out of retirement – mostly because his golf game sucks. He’s also looking for a bit of career redemption, as is Canadian jockey Ron Turcotte, who rides Secretariat to the ultimate victory.
Secretariat is a feel-good movie with a strong central female character (chickflick bonus!), a solid supporting cast and a “Rocky”-esque horse. It’s Seabiscuit lite.
And just in case you didn’t know- spoiler alert! – Secretariat became the first horse in 25 years to win the Triple Crown when he dominated the field in 1973 – setting records that still stand today.