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February 17, 2011
Review - " Secretariat "  -  (on DVD) By Roland Hansen
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Directed by: Randall Wallace
Starring: Diane Lane, Scott Glenn, James Cromwell, John Malkovich,
Margo Martindale, Dylan Walsh, Fred Thompson

The hero of the movie is not the horse, but the horse’s owner, one
Penny (Chenery) Tweedy. Penny is the daughter of a horse
breeding/racing family who has become the mother and housewife of a
Denver attorney. When her mother passes away leaving the horse
raising business in the hands of a father portrayed as in the early
stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, Penny has to intervene to avoid the
total ruination of the stables. The business is in shambles, and their
horse trainer is apparently a shady character attempting to bleed off
the remaining value under the nose of the near-comatose father. The
first action Penny takes as her father’s replacement is to fire the long-
time trainer and hire a new one.

Penny decides to take the reins of the business (neat pun, eh?) at
least long enough to restore it to a salable condition to avoid financial
ruin. As this is playing out, one of her father’s last (literal) gambles
results in the birth of a gangly red foal that is simply called “Big Red”
as it grows into a powerful, if lazy and gluttonous, racehorse. This, of
course, is the horse that will one day be named “Secretariat” and will
provide the financial windfall necessary to save the farm, save Penny’s
marriage and show Penny’s children the value of determination and
hard work.

There’s not much to spoil here since the end of the story is commonly
known history. Penny arranges a revolutionary syndication of
Secretariat’s breeding rights to raise the six million dollars needed to save the farm after her father passes away, leaving the
farm victim to exorbitant estate taxes. (Yeah, a Hollywood movie shows how an entire multi-million dollar business can be
totally destroyed by estate taxes right at a time when Congress is supposed to be debating the restoration of such taxes.) To
entice the syndicate investors Penny essentially had to guarantee a triple crown so that the breeding rights would be worth
what the syndicate paid, so most of the movie’s drama and suspense comes from the lead up to each race as Secretariat has
to overcome a series of difficulties to be at his best for the key races. One loss and Penny’s guarantee would be void and her
family would be financially ruined.

The high points of the movie are mostly the scenes of the races themselves. The camera work on the running horses is pretty
spectacular. The sound editing for those scenes is also academy award worthy, giving a real visceral feel for the races and
the horses.

The interpersonal scenes of Penny’s family, both her immediate family and her brother, are surprisingly understated, allowing
the audience to project into the scenes the level of angst, anger and betrayal that they feel. There is very little overt
emotional heartstrings pulling, except in a few scenes between Penny and her oldest daughter.

It's hard to build tension in a historically based
movie when you know the outcome. However
Secretariat did a good job and you end up
genuinely feeling excited at the outcome of
the final race. Overall this is an enjoyable but
wholly unnecessary film. If you've seen
Dreamer and/or Seabiscuit you've already
seen Secretariat. Just how many more amazing
racehorse saves the family farm films can they
make? Still, it was worth the time to rent and
watch the DVD. And Diane Lane is always so
incredibly lovely to watch.