Secretariat Review

Published 5 years ago by , Updated October 10th, 2010 at 1:32 am,

secretariat thorwarth Secretariat Review
Screen Rant’s Paul Young reviews Secretariat

Secretariat is a wonderfully written film that is beautifully shot and a joy to watch. Writer Mike Rich deserves quite a bit of credit because he’s managed to bring depth to the story and warmth to the characters – specifically Penny Chenery Tweedy (Diane Lane) and Big Red (Secretariat). By combining creative storytelling with characters audiences will care about, Rich was able to overcome what could have been an obstacle: most people will watch the movie already knowing how it ends.

Diane Lane gives a superb performance as Penny Chenery Tweedy, the housewife turned prestigious racehorse owner, as she copes with the loss of her mother and father. She is thrown into the male dominated world of horse breeding in order to save her father’s farm, a situation where she is clearly in over her head – although you could never tell by the way she conducts herself.

Her brother and her husband want her to sell the horses and the farm so she can go back to just being a housewife and mother of four – but she’s determined to keep her father’s legacy going. She feels the future of Meadow Stables lies with one unborn foal – a foal she can “win” with a simple toss of a coin. Her family is not alone in thinking she can’t cut it as a racehorse owner.

Ogden Phipps (James Cromwell) – one of the richest men in the world at the time – tells her: “No offense but I hope your luck is as bad as your daddy’s,” as they wait for the outcome of the coin toss. Phipps wins the toss and chooses first and with her loss, Penny gets everything she wants. If Phipps had made the other unborn foal his choice, this story could have ended completely different but luckily for Penny (and the horse racing world) it didn’t.

Penny would spend the next 3 years of her life split between her duties as a mom, a wife and a prestigious racehorse owner and the movie represents this well. She assumes a great deal of responsibility on the farm which causes her to  miss out on numerous events back home, including a “protest play” her oldest daughter Kate (Amanda Michalka) spent two years putting together.

secretariat diane lane  Secretariat Review

Diane Lane and Amanda Michalka in a scene from Secretariat

I thought the “protest play” was going to be an on-screen political nightmare but director Randall Wallace handles it and other potential politically charged scenes with tact and courtesy. What starts as a play with a humorous tone seemingly poking fun at hippie war protesters, turns into a wave of emotion as Wallace reminds us that Penny is heartbroken by her inability to attend the play and support her daughter, even though she disagrees with its politics. It’s a surprisingly emotional scene of a stressed and overburdened mother, and it turned out to be one of my favorites.

In fact, the movie is full of strong, emotional relationships all tied to Penny and I think it’s those types of sincere emotions that will keep audiences interested in the story. It’s completely obvious that Penny’s husband, Jack (Dylan Walsh) doesn’t agree with his wife’s decision not to sell the horse or farm and despite some marital tension, he never withdraws his support for her.

Secretariat has plenty of his own relationships and while both trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich) and jockey Ron Turcotte (Otto Thorwarth) are able to coax excellent performances from the horse, it’s clear a special relationship exists with his groom Eddie Sweat (Nelsan Ellis). Although not easily discernible because the movie focuses heavily on Penny and Secretariat’s relationship, the inspiration for the film comes from a book about Eddie Sweat’s life with the horse by sports writer William Nack.

It has been said that Sweat spent more time with Secretariat than any other human and looking back, Randall Wallace did a very good job of showing that relationship subtly. There are very few scenes in the film where Sweat and the horse aren’t together – although Sweat is given very little dialog.  Sweat is even shown sleeping outside the horse’s stable the night before the Belmont Stakes race. It’s attention to details like this that draws you into the movie without realizing it until well after you leave the theater.

Secretariat is well worth your time and effort to see if only to watch this magnificent animal win the Triple Crown (he won the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths!)

secretariat diane lane nelsan ellis Secretariat Review

Diane Lane, Otto Thorwarth, Nelsan Ellis and John Malkovich in a scene from Secretariat

On a personal note – some parents may be tempted to bring their younger children to the film because it’s made by Disney, rated PG and has horses in it. I would recommend leaving them at home for this one because while the racing is exciting and fun, there is quite a bit of drama that could bore those under the age of 12 or 13. Just ask my 8 and 4 year old.

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Our Rating:

4 out of 5

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  1. We saw it Friday and enjoyed it quite a bit. I knew Secretariat was an awesome racehorse, but I didn’t realize how awesome he really was until the final race (Belmont). Yes, there were a few *borderline* corny moments, and Diane Lane cried a lot, but the film delivered overall.

    • I cried a lot just watching it so I don’t find Diane’s crying in her role peculiar in any way.

      • It was very touching in different places, but I think she turned on the waterworks just a tad too much. It’s not a major complaint though. The movie was still great, imo.

        • Regarding Diane Lane’s character turning the waterworks on…well, after all, she did lose her parents. This alone would be traumatizing….just a thought.

          • Yes … I’m quite aware she lost her parents and yes, I also get the trauma of that – those weren’t the scenes I’m referring to.

            Maybe Penny was a crier IRL … but that sort of thing doesn’t always carry over onscreen very well. Diane seemed on the verge of tears – often succumbing to them – throughout the entire movie.

            There’s a fine line with such things and if it’s crossed too many times, such acting can lose its desired effect. It then runs the very real risk of becoming a bit annoying or desensitizing the audience (i.e., oh look, she’s crying *again*!)

  2. I just came from seeing it .
    I would also give it 4 stars.
    It was a fine film.

  3. This is an great movie – my wife and 12 y/o daughter left the theater extremely happy that we spent the time and money to see this wonderful film….it has been a long time since we felt that the price was justified. Strongly recommend.

  4. I’m not sure I understand how must people will already know the ending. I’ve never thought of horse racing as all that popular of sport. That said with a strong review I may check it out. Certainly sounds decent though I’ve never really enjoyed horse racing stories

    • That would probably just be me assuming people have heard of the most popular horse in racing history. I don’t bet on horses or follow racing either but I knew who he was – it was a generalization on my part. That said…the movie is more about the relationships than the racing. I don’t even remember them using much racing-themed dialog other than “gate” or “jockey”.

      • I guess I’m lucky here never heard a word about this so I have no knowledge of it. K could probably guess the majority of the film probably an underdog horse that wins a little and faces some kind of tragedy.

        Your probably right it’s probably pretty well known and I just missed it probably usually I hear horse racing and I skip that news lol.

        • ive heard of the Horse, but i always thought Seabiscuit was still considered the most popular racing horse??

          • Which one is more popular depends on who you ask i suppose. But Secretariat was definetely the fastest, he still holds the world record on dirt, 1.5 miles(2.4 km) in 2 minutes and 24 seconds.I don’t think that will be beaten in a long time, if ever :)

            • Secretariat does not hold the world record for 1.5 miles. He has the record for the Belmont Stakes and track record at Belmont. The world record is under 2 min and 23 seconds on some ridiculous fast western track

              • Look up the records, Big Red does hold the WR for 1.5 miles, on dirt.

          • Maybe you think that about Seabiscuit because of the movie?

            Man o’ War and Secretariat were probably the top two racehorses in American history (from what I can tell so far).

            Secretariat’s mindblowing win at Belmont (not only in time but *also* in distance between himself and the following horses) is a record that has stood since ’73 and it will probably not be broken anytime soon … most likely never.

            • no, i have heard of Seabiscuit since i was a little kid.

              • Ah, okay … I personally hadn’t heard of Seabiscuit until the movie. LOL

                But I’ve known about Secretariat and Man o’ War for as long as I can remember.

            • To think that in the Belmont, Secretariat as he always did, ran his own race. Secretariat was only hand ridden in the Belmont. Never once touched with the whip!! He could even ran faster. No horse in the history of racing could have beaten him that day.It was as if he had wings. I enjoyed the movie.

    • This is one of the only horses to have won the triple crown so most people know who he is. Horse racing is not that unpopular of a sport either.

  5. Sounds so damn boring

    • Well it wasn’t directed by Michael Bay so there are no exploding horses :P

      • Lol @ Paul
        exploding horses the horror.

        • I was looking forward to an exploding horse DAMN!

  6. last horse racing movie i was was the one with Viggo, had a hard time watching some scenes in that film really

    • Hidalgo. :)

      I’m not familiar with the sport of horse-racing, the movie looks interesting though. Also, I’ve enjoyed most of the movies I’ve seen with Diane Lane.

      • Yes, DIane Lane is hot.

        AND I’m looking forward to seeing the movie.

      • thanks jason lol..being that i just woke up when i wrote that, i had a brain fart. that movie had some pretty harsh scenes i thought

    • Some of the scenes in, ” Hidalgo”, were a bit unbelievable…the horse was supposed to be a Mustang, but in all reality, the horse was a Paint possibly a Quarterhorse..depends on today’s, AQHA and APHA rules. Hollywood had to add some things to the movie to have people laugh. Reminded me a bit of, “The Mummy”, and ” The Mummy Returns”…I horses were involved..but it is what it is. Now, what about an exploding horse movie ???? This I haven’t seen !

  7. I think the movie was great and the acting was far better than Blindside (since some are comparing the two).

  8. I’m a big horse racing fan, so I loved this movie, and got teary every time “Secretariat” won a race. But the story of Chenery was inspiring too. Risking so much on her strong belief in her horse and his abilities. I was young when Secretariat ran the Triple Crown, and remember the awe and excitement I felt. This film brought that back all over again. People in the audience cheered, even though we know he’d already won these races.

    Great fun especially if you’re a race fan.

  9. Yeah, people cheered/clapped in my audience as well.

  10. The world record for 1.5 miles on a DIRT track is still held by Secretariat…2:24 flat. That 2:23 and change time cited above is for a TURF (grass) track…Horses have a lot more traction on turf than they do on dirt. Secretariat’s record is safe….very safe :)

    • You are very correct Dave!

  11. I thought this movie was an important part of world history that deserved to be made into a film. The actors were all supurb, espcially Diane Lane, who was particularly believable, and, I thought, though his character was mostly silent, Nelsan Ellis (such a tender roll) was the best supporting actor. The underscore, the analysis, the creative license, by the writers, directors, and producers were spot on, which is typical of the disney dynasty. I absolutely loved this film.

  12. Recall back in what was it 1973 when Secretariat won the triple crown. Watched all the races. Prior I wasn’t a horse fanatic. Even living in Canada seemed that many were glued to there TV’s. To me it was like anything huge in Sports. That horse won most everyone over. Loved the movie yes we knew the outcome though bought back memories and heartwarming for the whole family.

  13. It was a nice film [I give it a 4] … but everyone needs to understand that it wasn’t a “Disney-produced” film. It was actually the output of a company called “Fast Track Productions LLC” and then distributed by Disney. Unless I missed it in the credits roll at the end, this company’s name is never mentioned.

    Outside of obviously key personnel [stars, director, cinematographer, etc.], “Fast Track Productions LLC” relied heavily on “recent film school graduate” labor and other such industry young fry — the first inducement being “you’ll be able to put a ‘Disney film’ on your resume.”

    Not degrading the overall quality of the movie to be sure … but everyone needs to realize that today’s “major studio productions” are actually sub-contracted to LLCs such as “Fast Track” for the grunt work, and then the finished product handed back to the major for distribution to the public — a far cry from the total-service “studio system” of classic, old Hollywood.