Secretariat Comes from Behind
Here is the thing, whilst Secretariat was one of the greatest race horses in the world, and depending on who you talk to the greatest, the movie "Secretariat" is not really about the horse or how he won the Triple Crown. Nope "Secretariat" the movie is about Penny Chenery who despite limited knowledge manages to beat the odds and a lack of support from those closest to her to own this great horse. Now I know that is not what some people hoped, I have read countless negative reviews because "Secretariat" was about the owner and not the horse but as a story of a woman who through sheer determination made an impression in the male orientated world of horse racing it's not bad. I say not bad because whilst entertaining "Secretariat" often borders on being a walking cliche thanks to the way Penny's story is presented with manufactured emotional moments and big inspiration speeches.
So as already mentioned "Secretariat" is the story of Penny Chenery picking up the story as housewife Penny and her family return to her father's horse farm for the funeral of her mother. Realising that her father is no longer able to run the farm and against the wishes of her husband and her brother Penny gets stuck in, learning all about the business both financially and that of horse breeding. It leads down a troubled path as with the help of trainer Lucien Laurin they train Secretariat often forcing Penny to split her focus between family and work with those who should be encouraging her failing.
Now I've read a few accounts of Penny Chenery's remarkable story and it is a remarkable story of determination and risks and sadly "Secretariat" doesn't quite get that across. Oh it goes through what happened, how Penny ended up running the farm, how she ended up with Big Red, aka Secretariat and how she ended up with trainer Lucien but it ends up feeling like a sanitized account of those facts. Now in some ways that is expected as this is a Disney inspirational movie, a piece of family entertainment so you are never going to get gritty realism but it does make it seem almost passionless at times.
I am sure having said passionless some people will be tutting because this is an inspirational movie about a woman's determination so how can it be passionless but it is. The reason is because all the inspirational elements have been made standard with cheesy speeches about not backing down and over choreographed scenes of Secretariat winning coming from behind. It makes it all feel too clean and corny, choreographed to deliver that uplifting quote or scene just at the right time. And when you throw in what end up corny scenes of everyone close to Secretariat dancing around whilst washing the horse it borders on being cringe worthy. Maybe these things did happen, maybe Penny did say some of the inspirational quotes used in the movie but the way it is put together is for me to clean and tight.
What does that means, well "Secretariat" ends up an entertaining and beautiful movie which is determined to get an emotional response from the audience. The racing scenes are nicely shot and in between some corny scenes there is some nice emotional drama especially when it focuses on Penny's issues with her brother and husband over the farm. But I have to say that is more to do with good acting from Diane Lane than anything else and it is often the acting which includes an interesting performance from John Malkovich which makes "Secretariat" work.
What this all boils down to is that "Secretariat" is to be fair what I expected from a Disney movie based on an inspirational true story. It is clean cut, a bit cliche and occasionally a bit cheesy but at the same time still entertaining, I just wish it could have been more real rather than choreographed.