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A movie directed by Randall Wallace

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A well-made drama. I was entertained.

  • Mar 23, 2011
*** out of ****

"Secretariat" is the kind of "based-on-a-true-story" film which never uses that phrase as a gimmick or a way to make money. The film is purely craft, and is about ten times better than you would expect it to be. I went into the film wondering how good it would be. I kind of expected it to be fairly forgettable, sappy, and corny. As it turns out, "Secretariat" is neither of those things. In fact, it's a completely enjoyable, well-acted, and well-made drama. The film has flaws, one of them being the consistent urge that the characters have when it comes to saying inspirational quotes, but in this case, there's so much "good" that you kind of have to go along with the film and enjoy it. Those who are really, un-healthily close-minded about movies such as this one will not enjoy it. They will walk in miserable, and leave equally as pissed. But I think that any film-goer of intelligence will go into "Secretariat" and leave knowing just how damn good it is. It's a fine movie, complete with great performances from Diane Lane and John Malkovich. Both great actors, in a suitably well-crafted film. Yes, "Secretariat" is based on a true story, and it sticks to that story quite well. Like just about every film based on a true story, "Secretariat" ends by stating the real facts, as well as where every character (or if you prefer, person) is now. I don't mind this technique; at least not here. This is the kind of film that John Lee Hancock meant to make when he directed that nigh silly, generic film "The Blind Side" in 2009. No this...this is what I'm talking about when I say "film based on a true story". I want it to tell the story genuinely well. I do not think that "Secretariat" will be considered a historical film, but it's fun to watch. It's upbeat, feel-good entertainment at its near best. It doesn't do a whole lot for me emotionally, but it got my spirits up for better and bigger things to come from Disney and the directors that they hire. I didn't think they could come out with something this good. They can do it again; and I say that purely because they were able to do it here. Just like the great horse Secretariat did the impossible; the movie named and based upon the great animal does just the right amount of good. I felt good watching it; and if you are open minded, then so should you.

"Secretariat" is the story of a simple house-wife; a dreamer, if you may. One day, her dreams become big, and thus, they become reality. She begins to train a horse, which she calls Secretariat, and this attracts attention. Early on, she gets the attention of a semi-retired Horse trainer named Lucien Laurin, who becomes consistently devoted to the horse. All you need to know about the story is that it is predictable and traditional; they enter a big race, and they do something that we all consider memorable. Not all true-stories make for good movies, but "Secretariat" is just fascinating enough to be thoroughly entertaining and up-lifting. The film was definitely a bit sappy at times- and we all know how much I hate that stuff- but I could handle it due to the craft involved. When it comes down to how well-made "Secretariat" is as a film, it is quite good. The story moves along well, and tells the true-story with at least some decent justice. I'm not so much interested in this film's utter accuracy, but rather the directorial talent that went into making it as good as it is. "Secretariat", even though I find it less generic than it should be, will ring hollow for many. Many, and then some, just won't like the thing. But I think it is entertaining, joyous, and a genuine celebration of true-story filmmaking at its near finest. I've seen better, but I've also seen much worse. The film has a timely story, which as I said, is told well. The characters are interesting enough, so frankly, what's to complain about?

Diane Lane is very great here. Her performance as a devoted house-wife-turned-horse racer who has a dream; a big dream. I admire the performance because Lane is a performing as a dreamer, and she is indeed a believable one. This film is based on a fairly extraordinary true story; one which could only be truly fascinating if you were in to the sport of Horse racing. Even if you're no familiar with the real-life character that Lane portrays, you can still find yourself appreciating her effort. Opposite of Lane is the endearing John Malkovich, who- as you would guess- pulls off another satisfactory performance. The guy is very, very talented; and I've seen several of his finest works. This is not the best performance by Malkovich, but he is good here because he keeps his tone simple and familiar. He was meant to play this character; and those kinds of things tend to work out well as they go along. I suppose I should mention the supporting cast, but I don't think I will; primarily because even though they are good and crucial, Malkovich and Lane matter the most. They are, in fact, the stars of the film; and damn good ones, too. You have to appreciate the strength in their performances. It would feel good to see them get some recognition. It really would.

"Secretariat" is a winner because it has energy. It's a tame drama, but it kind of needs to be given the premise. Disney has succeeded in the past when it comes to making good family dramas; but this is the best they've done in a while. The director of the film is Randall Wallace, who directed "We Were Soldiers". So he has talent, and yes, he does use it here yet again. He made sure that "Secretariat" was interesting enough for people like me who have seen this premise hundreds of times before. It shouldn't have worked. But effort was put into the production, and that is precisely why I enjoyed the film as much as I did. I will say this again: I don't love this film. I am praising it a lot, because I did LIKE it a lot. But I give a film as much credit that it deserves, and "Secretariat" is not getting what it deserves, therefore. Some call it sappy; some call it generic. And some decide to see it in many different ways. I TRIED to enjoy "Secretariat", and that's probably why I conclude that I really, really did. I usually don't enjoy these sorts of stories on-film, because they can get sappy, overly-sentimental, and unrealistically cheesy. "Secretariat" never looses its realism, and it almost enters the realm of beauty. The film is wonderfully shot, and features a generic drama score. It's not as annoying as the one in, say, "The Blind Side", but it's nothing short of average. But the film looks good, and it was uplifting enough for it to be very much watchable. You should want to watch it; it is worth it. It's not perfect, but "Secretariat" pushes on to complete the final lap into victory. It's one of the best dramas of 2010; as far as that goes. And that's not too far.

I have a genuine, honest appreciation for films like "Secretariat". With a film like this, things can end up on the bad side of town, or perhaps even the good side. "Secretariat" is a film with heart, a good one; and energy, and in good amounts. I admire the directorial skill put into the film, and it never felt too overlong for me. It was enjoyable throughout, it not a little overly sentimental at times. Is it pretentious? Goodness, no. This film, despite being a main-stream drama, gets the job done. It's kind of clever how a concept, a story, such as this one can be re-animated so well for the big screen. I don't think that "Secretariat" is quite inspirational or powerful enough to be worthy of any major awards, but I wouldn't mind if it got any either. It's well-acted, well-made, and entertaining. It's a rare drama, the kind that makes big bucks but never focuses solely on making them. I admire that. This film was made out of skill and passion. Few films really are. It's a smart, intelligent, and pleasant genre piece. It doesn't get anything perfect; but it never gets anything wrong either. Thus, I was able to kick back, relax, and NOT detest the thing. And I thought I would; but I smiled too much to accept that. I admit that I have a soft spot for films as well-made as this one. It may not be the perfect winning horse. But it's a winning horse none the less. Take that into account when approaching this sports/drama film.

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March 24, 2011
a friend of mine @ is a huge fan of this racehorse. I know this wasn't based on any truth, but this has been getting some pretty decent reviews. It is a pretty fictional film I guess based on a real race horse. I may check this out. Thanks for the review!
More Secretariat reviews
review by . January 29, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Whether you know the full story and the whole history or not, 'Secretariat' is a terrific family movie. This Disney film zeroes in on the horse and its owner, Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) in a way that makes us care deeply about both. The pensive moments marvelously frame the most exciting scenes, and Lane is pitch perfect as the beleaguered woman who must face debtors, relatives, competitors, and the media in the face of a dream that could cost her everything. Director Randall Wallace knows how to …
review by . October 16, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Good but not great
Denver housewife Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) takes over her father's horse racing empire when he falls ill, commuting to Virginia to take care of the farm. Having grown up in the racing world, she knows about bloodlines and invests all her efforts in young Big Red, soon to be renamed Secretariat. She hires a good, but retired trainer (John Malkovich) and soon the horse is headed for the Triple Crown.      Secretariat was arguably the best race horse ever and deserved a good …
review by . October 14, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
I know how movies like this are supposed to work, and this time, it doesn't bother me one bit. "Secretariat," in the tradition of recent films like "The Blind Side," "Invictus," and "The Longshots," adapts a true story into a reliable but successful inspirational sports drama. I admit that I knew nothing of the real Secretariat before seeing ads for the film, and I still know nothing about horseracing. However, I do know a good movie when I see one (although …
Quick Tip by . October 04, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
I don't have to see this flick to know that it's another formulaic, dull as dishwater movie in which a plucky woman needs to save the farm and a crusty old trainer who comes out of retirement to help her do the impossible. Now all we need is a troubled jockey who needs redemption and we'll have all the cliches covered. They've been doing this crap since the days of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. Oh yeah. There might be a horse in there somewhere too.      When …
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Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #3
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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The "greatest racehorse of all time" mantle fits easily around the neck of Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner. So why not a movie version of this champion's life?Secretariatbegins in the late '60s, with some good behind-the-scenes material on how thoroughbreds come to be (there's flavorful atmosphere inside the horsey world, including an account of Secretariat's ownership being decided by a coin flip as part of an old-school agreement). A highly lacquered Diane Lane plays Penny Chenery, the inheritor of her father's stables, who segues from being an all-American mom to running a major horse-racing franchise; reliable character-actor support comes in the form of John Malkovich, as a gaudily outfitted trainer, and Margo Martindale, as Chenery's assistant. Screenwriter Mike Rich and director Randall Wallace must do some heavy lifting to make Lane's privileged millionaire into some sort of underdog--luckily, the hidebound traditions of the male-dominated racing scene provide some sources of outrage. The need to stack the deck even more leads the movie into its more contrived scenes, unfortunately, as though we needed dastardly villains in order to root for Penny and her horse. Meanwhile, attempts to reach for a littleSeabiscuit-style social relevance don't come off, and a curious religious undertone might make you wonder whether we're meant to assume that God chose Secretariat over some less-deserving equine. The actual ...
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Director: Randall Wallace
Genre: Drama
Release Date: October 08, 2010
MPAA Rating: PG
Screen Writer: Mike Rich
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
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