By: Oberst von Berauscht (Four Beers) –
Secretariat is a workmanlike sports film. It boasts strong, well-cast performances, and well-shot race sequences that hold your attention. Too bad about just about everything else…
Filmmaker Randall Wallace has a knack for sentimentality, even in a film as bloodily honest about its violence as We Were Soldiers managed to romanticize its characters in storybook fashion.
God bless us, everyone.Except for Commies.
And while he may have gotten away with it that time, (There will always be a place in my heart for John Wayne Mel Gibson Sam Elliott movies) Secretariat pushes the quantity of saccharine to levels that would kill Frank Capra.
Or George Bailey
I think it is fair to say the sub-genre of horse films has enough entries in it already. Much has been said about this film’s numerous similarities to the 2003 movie Seabiscuit. I won’t comment too much on that, other than to say that familiarity can breed contempt. So, if I am not to judge the film on originality, I am left with little else than to judge it on its own merits as a “Horse Movie”.
Quality films in this category tend to have strong actors, whether known or unknown, and this film does deliver on that. The feeling you are left with is that some of the secondary characters are underutilized and that the film focuses a bit too much on Diane Lane. She does her best with the material, but for a story about a horse, Secretariat spends little time with the characters most responsible for making the horse what he was.
John Malkovich gets the most exposure as flamboyant trainer Lucien Laurin; every scene he shares with Lane ignites a quirky chemistry that should have been given more depth by the filmmakers. Actors Nelsen Ellis and newcomer Otto Thorwarth also turn in noteworthy efforts, as the horse’s caretaker and jockey respectively. It is a damn shame they weren’t given more than a cursory treatment in the screenplay. (If you’re going to compare this to Seabiscuit, consider the ample screen time given Tobey McGuire and Chris Cooper.)
Chug this one fast as you can, because for a movie set in the late 60’s-early 70’s, the treatment it gives the external struggles is elementary at best. It feels at times like no one involved in the film did any research or lived through the period. While I did not either, I can say with some certainty that the hippies have never appeared cleaner, better adjusted, and more harmless.
©2005 Jason McBry
Senator, I know hippies, some hippies are friends of mine. You, sir, are no hippie…
The final drink that’ll get you through this mess is for the pure predictability of the whole affair. Historical films often have this problem. There is a delicate balance that should be maintained. And because of the nature of the Triple Crown, we are left with a movie that has three climaxes (which isn’t as good as it sounds).
If the other flaws of the film had been addressed, this wouldn’t have been as big a deal. Better historical dramas have been made of less interesting events. In the end, we all know that William Wallace will invade Poland and hit the iceberg.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: Whenever Hippies are shown
Take a Drink: Every time someone makes a misogynistic quip, to remind you they are bad guys
Drink a Toast: If you can’t tell if Secretariat or Diane Lane is supposed to be running in the Derby (Oh, snap!)