FlixChatter Review: Secretariat

I saw this on day 4 of the film festival last week. There aren’t a lot of movies with strong female roles in Hollywood, so it’s nice that three out of four of the studio films at TCFF feature characters based on real-life strong women in a male-dominated arena. Secretariat is more than just a horse race movie, the heart of the movie is its owner Penny Chenery, and Fair Game‘s true heroine Valerie Plame is a CIA spy — it doesn’t get any more feisty than that. Fair Game review forthcoming.

Before I saw this movie I had never heard of a horse named Secretariat and its legacy. But I was up for a feel-good, rousing movie and that’s exactly what I got and more. In fact, I was quite moved by the story of Penny Chenery, an ordinary housewife who ends up taking over her ailing father’s Meadow Stables in Virginia, despite her lack of experience with horse-racing business. Apparently the name came courtesy of the Stables’ secretary, Elizabeth Ham, who was had submitted 10 names to the Jockey Club, all of which were denied for various reasons [per Wikipedia]. Heh, I wonder what the other 10 were if this was considered a winning name??

I haven’t seen Diane Lane play such a ‘button-up’ role, I initially thought this is a rather unusual role for her, I guess she’s known for her sensual presence on screen. But you know what, she delivered a believable and affecting performance as Penny. In fact, this movie focuses as much on her as it does on the Triple Crown winner, and does it in a captivating way that I wasn’t at all bored during the almost 2-hr running time.

It’s nice to see John Malkovich playing a somewhat ‘normal’ character, but of course he retains his signature quirkiness, which is what makes him so watchable. He plays the French Canadian veteran horse trainer Lucien Laurin who’s dressed like Superfly, quite possibly the zaniest-dressed horse trainer there ever was. I hope he didn’t design those himself (in case you didn’t know, Malkovich has his own fashion label) There’s a funny scene where Miss Ham commented about how much he paid for his hat, both characters are quite the comic relief here.

The action shots of the horse races are fun to watch, I found myself cheering for Secretariat as if I was right there watching him on the Kentucky Derby racetrack. The grand finale of the race at Belmont Stakes is particularly memorable and made me want to stand up and cheer. The gospel-style music also helps set the mood though I’m not quite sure what the connection of that and the occasional Bible references are to the story. The heart-stirring scene of the large chestnut colt being born was also one of the highlights, no shortage of beauty shots of the super horse, that’s for sure.

Directed by Randall Wallace, who’s best known as the writer of Braveheart, he only had 3 directing credits in his career. One of which is The Man in The Iron Mask, another personal favorite of mine. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, it’s right up there with the underdog football movie Rudy and the similarly-themed Seabiscuit.

I highly recommend this to everyone of all ages, whether or not horse race is your thing.


Have you seen this movie? What did you think?

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21 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: Secretariat

    1. Yeah, I did. The horse race scenes and even the ‘quieter’ scenes in this movie captivated me. I think people will compare this to the Blind Side because the lead character is a strong woman and both are based on true stories, but they’re different movies. Plus, I like John Malkovich, he’s quite amusing in this one.

  1. Mike B.

    Wow, Diane Lane button’d up? I can remember like it was yesterday her playing the romantic interest of a very young Matt Dillon in Rumble Fish. She was a kid herself. Dang, I must be getting old!

    1. Well that was almost 3 decades ago, Mike. But she definitely ages well, she’s so gorgeous in this movie so when I say ‘button-up’ I didn’t mean it in a bad way, I mean she is a housewife from the South after all. It’s just she’s played a lot of sexy roles in the past so I’m not used to seeing her this way. You’ve gotta check out Vince’s comment about Matt Dillon in my film shoot post yesterday. Funny how his name came up in 2 separate posts in one day!

      1. Mike B.

        Lane is and has been a very solid actress. Funny about Vince and Matt Dillon! He’s stolen more than a few ladies hearts I’m guessing …

  2. Kevin

    I’m excited for this film,

    Seabiscuit was a great film centered around horse racing. If you saw it, how would you compare the two?

      1. He..he.. not a problem. I do that sometimes when I read too fast. I saw Seabiscuit so long ago I don’t remember a lot of the details but I did enjoy it a lot. Like this one, even though the movie is named after the horse, it’s not just all about the horse racing stuff. I thought that Tobey Maguire was impressive as Red Pollard, and the supporting performances were great, too.

        So you’re going to see Secretariat this weekend I take it?

  3. Nice to hear it’s “similarly themed” to Seabiscuit and not just Seabiscuit 2: Giddyup Malkovich. And I totally choked up at the trailer the first time I saw it. What a softy…

    Good review, Ruth!

    1. Hi Aiden! Ahahahaha… Giddyup Malkovich that’d make a good title, it’s like Being John Malkovich, only with horses 😀 I gotta admit I ran out of tissues watching this, I didn’t think I’d be so moved by the story but I did.

  4. skeptical

    Never heard of a horse named Secretariat? Where have you been for the last 37 years? Under a rock? At the bottom of the ocean? On the moon?Is it possible for ANYONE not born in a 3rd world country to never have heard of this horse? I haven’t seen the movie yet, and I wasn’t yet born when Secretariat was racing, but I doubt I could find a single person who doesn’t at least know the name Secretariat. Whether or not horse racing is their thing…

    1. WOW, so you obviously know every single thing that happened on this planet eh? I didn’t grow up in the US so no, I had NOT heard of Secretariat nor Seabiscuit prior to seeing the movie, and I’m certain I’m not the only one. I bet there are some great important things that happened in this world that you probably aren’t aware of, but I wouldn’t be so judgmental about it.

      1. yes, I’m with Flixy, I was also just about to say that I haven’t heard of Seabiscuit either before the film. And I’m sure they were great and lovely animals, but I bet most people in non-3rd world countries don’t know most of the capital cities around the world, not to mention that most of the Western people haven’t heard of half of the countries which are not in the West, so not knowing an animal’s name, really isn’t a crime or a sin.

  5. why is the horse named SECRETARIAT??? It sounds unbelievably strange to me. 🙂 or maybe it’s just because I’m not English?
    I tend to avoid Diane Lane’s movies, but I often enjoy Malkovich’s crazy performances. When he’s not too crazy off course 🙂

    1. Hey Dez, be careful someone might be appalled that you think so. Apparently it’s strange to some people that I hadn’t heard of this horse at all as if it’s the greatest living being since Lord Jesus Christ came to earth!!

      If you like Malkovich, you’d get a kick out of him here. His quirky self is always fun to watch, but no, he’s actually pretty ‘tame’ in this one 🙂

  6. Pingback: Secretariat The Game | 7Wins.eu

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