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With: Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Scott Glenn, James Cromwell, Dylan Walsh, Fred Dalton Thompson, Kevin Connolly, Nestor Serrano, Amanda Michalka, Carissa Capobianco, Margo Martindale, Sean Michael Cunningham, Nelsan Ellis, Eric Lange, Graham McTavish, Otto Thorwarth
Written by: Mike Rich, based on a book by William Nack
Directed by: Randall Wallace
MPAA Rating: PG for brief mild language
Running Time: 122
Date: 09/30/2010

Secretariat (2010)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Stallion Job

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This movie about the 1973 Triple-Crown winner Secretariat is unsurprising and perhaps a little bit unnecessary, but director Randall Wallace manages to bring in enough winning moments to make it worth an afternoon's viewing. Unlike the 2003 Oscar favorite Seabiscuit, Secretariat is more focused on the humans that weren't supposed to be able to do what they did.

After her father falls ill, Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) must decide what to do with the family's horses and land. She discovers that her father had two mares, both pregnant by the racing community's #1 male breeder (the sire). To complete the deal, she must participate in a coin toss with the owner of the sire (James Cromwell) over the choice of babies (foals). Penny does her research and chooses the future Secretariat, who has both speed and endurance in his bloodline. Of course, she gets the usual, "you can't do this because you're just a girl," but she hires a troublesome, washed-up trainer, Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich), to help and to be her fellow misfit. Together they raise and train the horse to do the "impossible."

Wallace shoots the racing sequences with plenty of style, going low-tech as well as high-tech. Some races are shown in the midst of the track, extremely close-up with the sounds of thundering hooves, snorting breath and pounding blood on the soundtrack. Another race is seen from a black-and-white TV screen, and still another isn't even shown at all. The film manages to make the foregone conclusion seem exciting. Moreover, Malkovich gives a wonderfully funny, warm performance that breaks him out of his usual "weird" and "psycho" roles, and Lane finds perfect balance with him.

But that's about it. This is a long movie, and there just aren't enough fresh twists and turns to sustain it all. It adopts the tone of a PG-rated Disney movie, meaning that everything is serious and important, even when it tries to spring to life -- as in a "spontaneous" dancing sequence -- it doesn't seem really alive. All the supporting characters that keep gathering around Penny to tell her she can't do it simply grow tiresome. And we even get the kind, unthreatening black character, played by Nelsan Ellis, who is responsible for the horse's care and feeding.

Several years back, screenwriter Mike Rich gave us another inspirational sports story, The Rookie (2002) -- also produced at Disney -- which managed to find some quiet, organic moments in the life of its hero, but Secretariat is more interested in larger-than-life myth, and it simply can't keep up pace with the human heart.

Disney has released a spectacular DVD/Blu-Ray combo, with astonishing picture quality, plus lots of extras. It begins with a Randall Wallace commentary track, deleted scenes, and trailers. We get an interview with the real Penny, other featurettes, and very cool multi-angle simulations of various races.

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