Everybody loves an underdog story, whether it is a human or an animal. We have seen many stories about horses (fictional and fact), including “Seabiscuit,” “Flicka” and “Dreamer.” These are all tales of exceptional horses, and all movies I have seen, but nothing caught my interest or educated me about the racing circuit as much as “Secretariat” did.
Walt Disney and Mayhem Pictures have teamed up to bring this inspiring true life story to the big screen. At the reins of the movie is writer-director Randall Wallace. Wallace first gained recognition and success in Hollywood when he wrote the scripts for “Braveheart,” “The Man in the Iron Mask” and “Pearl Harbor.” “Secretariat” is his third time in the director’s chair (after “We Were Soldiers” and “The Man in the Iron Mask”).
In the 1960s, mother and housewife Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) returns home to find her father (Scott Glenn) basically comatose. With her father unable to take care of his horse stable, Penny’s sibling brother (Dylan Baker) wants to put him away in a retirement home and sell the business and all of the horses. Being raised on the farm and having love for the horses that her mother and father both had, she decides to stay there and try to get the stable out of the financial bind it’s been in. The farm’s major priority is raising and breeding horses to be race horses, and on March 30 at 12:10 a.m., a bright red chestnut colt with three white socks and a star with a narrow blaze is born. From the moment of its birth, it stood right up to the amazement of all in the barn. The fiery spirit and determination was apparent and Penny decided to have a double life; living part time at the ranch and the rest of the time with her family. Being a determined and a strong-willed woman, she fires the current horse trainer at the farm and found Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich), an amazing trainer who was trying to retire but wasn’t exactly fitting into the new lifestyle. Intrigued by the prospect of training this horse, he warily agrees to become the new trainer.
At 2 years old, Secretariat started racing and although he did well, he only ranked fourth in his first big race. Race after race, he showed initiative and an ability to go faster and further than before. With a new jockey and trainer, both just as stubborn as Secretariat himself, Secretariat wins seven races in four months. Although the winning streak is garnering praise from the race world, it still isn’t enough to pull Penny and the business out of debt. Teaming up with a partner stable, Penny decides to try selling shares to other local race farms to have exclusive breeding rights to Secretariat. Can she pull off the impossible — especially when she guarantees an investor that Secretariat will be the first horse to win the “Triple Crown” races in over 25 years?
Disney has pulled off another compelling and heartfelt adventure in the true story of Secretariat and his relationship with Penny. Anyone familiar with racing knows the name and Secretariat holds many records and is one of the most praised horses in racing history. Although we know the final outcome, the journey getting there is so great and drives you swiftly through the history of this great beast.
Being a movie set in the ’60s and ’70s, you get the clothes, hairstyles and lingo of the period. The sweeping location shots, mixed with the profound emotional bond between characters, helps to transport you away to a different era in American history. The most important aspect of this movie is not the beautiful grassy knolls of the ranch or even the thundering excitement of the race tracks, it’s the way it portrays the characters and how the actors really breathed life into them.
Diane Lane is simply superb as leading lady Penny and she is the central character to the entire film. We see the story through her perspective, so we go on the emotional ride with her throughout the film. You can see the true connection and love she has for the horses and people around her. I think that this was a wise choice on the film-makers part — to make the central story about her and not just the horse. One of the other big players in my enjoyment of this film was John Malkovich as horse trainer Lucien Laurin. Malkovich portrays his character with quirk and intuitiveness — he is the oddball of the group and is therefore the majority of the comedic relief throughout. The eccentric depiction of Lucien was a constant supply of laughs, from his made up funny sayings to a running joke in the film about his choice of hats. He will keep you chuckling throughout.
Lastly, the cherry on top of the proverbial cake is the cinematography, score and editing of the film. Shot with somewhat of the horse’s view during the races, you get an adrenaline rush and feel like you’re right in the middle of the action. The score, along with the fast pace of the movie, rushes you through the film seamlessly all while giving you hope and inspiration. With a simplistic view of this particular horse’s story, we get to see a legend in the making. In the final race of the movie, we see Secretariat coming down the hallway onto the race track, somewhat reminiscent of a gladiator heading into the arena.
Set to be a family masterpiece for people of all ages, “Secretariat” will bust out of the gate Oct. 8. The film — which also stars Dylan Walsh, Amanda Michalka, Nelsan Ellis and Graham McTavish — is rated PG for Brief Mild Language.
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