The problem with movies based on actual events is that you know how they’re going to end. The Titanic sank, the Nazis lost World War II and Secretariat won the Triple Crown. The advantages to such movies though are being able to see the actual people involved in these events, or watch Leonardo DiCaprio hang off a boat.
Secretariat is Disney’s latest feel good movie following the world famous horse as he won the Triple Crown, an intense series of horse races done over a short period of time. His story is told through his owner, Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) and her team of horse trainers as they struggle to convince the world that Secretariat is the horse to bet on. Chenery inherits the family horse farm from her aging father, played by Scott Glenn, who is suffering from dementia. The farm is about to go under when a thoroughbred colt is born who has the potential to be an incredible racehorse. So Penny hires the best and most eccentric trainer she can find, played by John Malkovich, then heads off to the races.
Lane, Glenn, and Malkovich all deliver stunning performances throughout the film. When 10 minutes into a film the audience has tears in their eyes for characters they’ve just been introduced to then the movie is definitely doing something right. Lane takes the audience through the spectrum of emotions of a woman trying to be a housewife, horse manager, and caring for an aging father all without losing her nerve to win.
The film’s only real flaw is the Andy Griffith portrayal of the late 1960’s, which was cleaned and refined by Disney. Lane’s struggle as a woman in a male dominated business doesn’t come across as that big of a struggle, since everyone but the movie’s pseudo-villain, an opposing horse owner played by Nester Sarrano, doesn’t really care and even he treats it more like an 8-year-old teasing girls on the playground. There’s a sub plot of Lane’s oldest daughter becoming a hippy and Lane encourages her to stand up for what she believes in, since apparently in Secretariat, hippies didn’t do drugs and protests never ended in mace and fire hoses, so naturally middle-class families encouraged their children to join.
Overall, Secretariat is a good movie. The acting was compelling even in the Andy Griffith world. The plot was solid without the usual Hollywood cliché of contrived romantic sub plots, or needless action scenes where Lane rides Secretariat through the forest to escape the Ring Wrathes. The overall message of believing in yourself and following what you believe is right comes across as well told and invigorating, even though the intensity of the horse races is diminished some by the fact that you know who’s going to win. It’s Disney’s feel good family movie of the year. As usual Disney showed that they can still tug at our heartstrings, this time by tying them to a big fast horse.
Secretariat is rated PG for some brief language.