Hollywood loves horse movies. Because audiences love horse movies. Because there's something satisfying about watching a horse race. Or something like that. But with Secretariat, Disney proves that a magical true story doesn't automatically translate into a good movie.
For those of you who don't know much about horse racing - that's probably most of you - Secreteriat is one of 11 horses to win the Triple Crown and holds the speed record at two of the three events, the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes. The movie is about both the horse and its unlikely female owner.
Secretariat stars Diane Lane as Penny Chenery, who takes over ownership of the horse when her father passes away. She enlists the help of eccentric trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich) to make something of the horse, while dealing with hardship within her own family.
Sadly, as esteemed as the horse is, Secretariat is a fluffy, unimpressive tale that feels just a little too much like a stereotypical Disney movie. The picture is harmless and at times entertaining, but so lacking in character it's immediately forgettable.
During its release, critics rightfully compared it to Seabiscuit, the 2003 Tobey Maguire movie about the Depression-era racing horse. Unlike Secretariat, Seabiscuit made real characters out of its cast - including the horse itself. That movie established an emotional connection between the characters and the audience, something that simply doesn't occur in Secretariat.
Directed by Randall Wallace (Braveheart, We Were Soldiers), Secretariat is a glossy, emotionless movie. Lane isn't very memorable in the leading role and Malkovich is there purely to be a comedian and spout out cliché lines about the horse. More importantly, the horse itself is an afterthought, a prop to be used in races.
Given that the sport builds up the prestige of the animal so much, it's amazing the filmmakers failed to do so with the movie.
Secretariat is easy to watch, but it's a bland take on an otherwise impressive story. Don't waste your time.
The DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack comes with a few standard special features, including an audio commentary, a short featurette about the real Secretariat (including footage from the actual races, which are more exciting than anything in the actual movie), an interview between director Randall Wallace and the real Penny Chenery, a featurette on choreographing the races and some deleted scenes.
The movie serves as a good rental, but neither the bonus features or the film itself should be considered for purchasing.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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