Cinematic Flashback: Secretariat (2010) Review

More than three thousand years ago a man named Job complained to God about all his troubles and the Bible tells us that God answered. Do you give the horse its strength or clothe its neck with a flowing mane? Do you make him leap like a locust, striking terror with his proud snorting? He paused fiercely, rejoicing in his strength and charges into the fray. He laughs at fear, afraid of nothing, He does not shy away from the sword. The quiver rattles against his side, along with the flashing spear and lance. In frenzied excitement he eats up the ground. He cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds…. especially when this “cinematic flashback” review is for 2010’s Secretariat.


“The Impossible True Story”

Director: Randall Wallace

Writer: Mike Rich and Sheldon Turner

Starring: Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Dylan Walsh, James Cromwell

Run Time: 123 minutes

Release Date: October 8th, 2010

Rated: PG


Upon hearing of her mother’s death, housewife Penny Tweedy return to her father’s horse farm for her mother’s funeral. Realizing that her father is no longer able to run the farm and against the wishes of her husband (John) and her brother (Hollis), Penny decides to tend to the farm, learning all about the horse business…both financially and that of horse breeding. In time, with the guiding help of trainer Lucien Laurin, Penny, who goes by Penny Chenery (her family’s last name) train one of her horses named Secretariat for the races; often forcing Penny to spilt her focus between family and work, which causes friction between those who should be encouraging her. However, with the fabled Triple Crown in sight, Penny’s ambition for Secretariat is laden with steely resolve and solid conviction.


I remember seeing the movie trailers and marketing campaign for Secretariat during its theatrical release in 2010, but I actually never saw the film in theaters. I did actually rent the movie the following year when it got a home release. Personally, I liked the movie. It wasn’t exactly the most riveting and / or mind-blowing / thought-provoking “based on a true life” movie, but Secretariat is definitely a “crowd pleaser” that makes a genuine statement in its cinematic representation of the legendary “Big Red” racehorse. Since then, I’ve bought the movie (on Blu-Ray) and always enjoy watching whenever I’m around the house doing stuff or just simply for background noise (usually when doing my reviews). It certainly does have a good replay value and for a movie…. that’s a good thing.

Directed by Randall Wallace, Secretariat has a “feel good” swagger throughout its two-hour runtime. It is produced by Disney, so the movie is offered up as a family friendly feature; presenting the story of Penny Chenery and her race for the Triple Crown with Secretariat to be a clean cut and approachable endeavor for all ages. In truth, Wallace takes the “real life” source material and shapes into a well-meaning cinematic endeavor, creating something that’s quite inspirational (especially since it’s based on a true-life story) as well as being an entertaining motion picture. Perhaps the main reason for liking Secretariat is in the actually story being told in the movie; following Penny from normal housewife to quite the confidential and sharp horse owner of a prized racehorse. Of course, Secretariat’s races have been widely documented throughout the years, but this movie allows us (the viewers) to see the story behind the story (sort of speak) of into Penny Chenery’s life and how she had to overcome doubters and non-believers to winning the Triple Crown in 1973. In fact, the whole spectacle of the film (like in real life) is seeing Secretariat take part in the three Triple Crown races and seeing all the various record-breaking records that he established during those areas. The entire ending scene at the Preakness is truly fun to watch and to marvel over. By the end of the movie, a viewer can only simply wonder in awe at how much Secretariat (the horse) achieved such a feat like he did. Even though there were other Triple Crown winners after Secretariat, he truly is the greatest race horse in history….and the movie clearly shows that. Lastly, the overall presentation of the film is quite good and cinematographer Dean Semler does have few terrific shots throughout the movie, especially in the scenes in the Kentucky Derby and in the Belmont Stakes.

There’s not a whole lot that I didn’t like about Secretariat as it’s pretty much a well-made straight forward “feel good” movie from start to finish. Perhaps the only thing I would criticize about is that movie, despite being well-crafted endeavor, is quite predictable and formulaic throughout. I know it’s supposed to tell of a story, but the story being told doesn’t come with much surprises. Regardless, the narrative of Secretariat is still quite good. Additionally, much like a lot of “based on a true story” tales of being translated to a feature film, “fact checker” individuals out there might criticize certain elements of Secretariat of being fabricated for cinematic purposes. This includes certain events happen and how particular people are depicted in the movie. Of course, this tactic of “spice things up” for a movie is commonplace and it’s something that I expected to happen. So, this particular aspect really didn’t bother me, but purists out there might cry fowl in few areas, especially considering Secretariat story has been widely publicized and well-documented.

Leading the movie’s cast is (of course) actress Diane Lane as the feature’s central protagonist character of Penny Chenery. Naturally, Lane shines in this role and certainly does give a great performance in her portrayal of Penny, which gives the character a sense of warmth and refinement as well as strong will of ambition and a steely determination. While the character of Penny Chenery probably could’ve been played by another actress, I really can’t see any other actress playing the character. Thus, Lane was absolutely perfect in the role!

Alongside Lane, the film’s supporting cast, including Dylan Walsh, Margo Martindale, Nelsan Ellis, John Malkovich, James Cromwell, and Kevin Connolly, do exceptional work in their respective roles. Although some roles might be a bit criticized for being “cartoonish” (like I mentioned above), their respective acting talents mesh well within the film’s context. Like all “based on a true story” adaptations, some things do have to translated for cinematic convention. Still, for better or worse, the movie’s supporting cast is well-acted in the film….and that’s a good thing.

In the end, while there might be some minor grumbles here and there, the film Secretariat is definitely a “feel good” crowd pleaser endeavor. It’s well-directed, well-acted, theatrically meaningful, and thematically charged in a movie adaptation to one of the greatest race horses in history. It may not be the best “based on a true story” feature, but it’s definitely up there as well as having great replay value. Just as Penny Chenery says in the movie “My father’s legacy is not his money. My father’s legacy is the will to win.” and I think that’s what the Secretariat movies does….win!

Cinematic Flashback Score: 4.3 Out of 5


Fun Fact: Five horses played the part of Secretariat. “Trolley Boy”, the principal horse used was selected by Penny Chenery in a Secretariat look-alike contest in Kentucky, and even walked the Red Carpet at the film premiere in Hollywood. The five horses, four thoroughbreds and a quarter horse were made up with special make-up to replicate the three “white socks”, facial stripe, and star. The horse used in most of the close-ups was named “Longshot”. Although “Trolley Boy” looked more like Secretariat overall, Longshot was deemed more “close-up friendly”.

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