"Secretariat" DVD, Blu-ray Movie Review

2/02/2011 Posted by Admin


DVD, Blu-ray Movie Review

Directed by Randall Wallace, Written by Mike Rich and William Nack (book), Rated PG, 116 minutes.

By our guest blogger, Matthew Schimkowitz

These days, “the inspirational true story” tagline is a tad cliché, and though the intentions are all well and good, their trappings are like nails on a chalkboard when done improperly.

Sometimes in these movies, the likability of the characters and the charm of the production are enough to win over the audience and silence the naysayers.  But "Secretariat" isn't one of those films. It’s an inspirational true story that oozes with so much inspiration, its overwhelming optimism becomes annoying and embarrassing.

Now out on DVD and Blu-ray disc, "Secretariat" follows the story of Penny Chenery (Diane Lane), a Denver housewife who inherits the family horse farm after the death of her mother. After years of failed opportunities and poor business decisions, Penny takes to the job with a fervor and begins to reestablish the business by finding a new trainer in Lucien Laruin (John Malkovich) and breeding a horse named Secretariat that harnesses both the speed and stamina of a champion.

The film follows each as they fight off the seemingly never-ending barrage of misfortunes that not only plague the horse, but also Chenery’s familial relationships and Penny’s gender thanks to the sexist antagonism thriving in the horseracing world. Nevertheless, Penny and Lucien forge ahead and lead Secretariat to the sport’s most prestigious event, the Triple Crown.

In theory, "Secretariat" is meant to be a harmless two hours that will leave the audience with goosebumps on their skin and a lumps in their throat. In practice, however, "Secretariat" relies too heavily on clichés, assuming people will fall in love with the film simply because Chenery experiences difficulties.  Its plot points are fairly predictable and break down to alternating streams of hot and cold.

What's appalling are the film's depictions of the late-'60s and early-'70s. The unnecessary subplot of Penny’s relationship with her hippie daughter Kate (Amanda Michalka) and her terribly unsupportive husband, Jack (Dylan Walsh), is a total waste of time – although it does feature one hilarious protest play, which might be worth the price of admission alone.  Penny, Kate and Jack’s political relationship is a shallow representation of a complex time that should have been left on the cutting room floor.

The problem with the film is that it forces its emotional beats upon the audience--they know exactly how to feel at all times, which dumbs down the production.  Granted, these are the types of things one expects and probably wants to see in a film such as "Secretariat," but why not try to elicit real emotions from the capable cast by using a script that doesn’t spoon feed the audience?

In general, there’s nothing wrong with a little cheese at the movies. These types of films go down smoothly and leave audiences satisfied, and for the most part, "Secretariat" manages to keep things moving quickly enough to make the two hours feel brief. It’s an entertaining movie, but it treats its audience poorly in its assumptions that they won’t understand the gravity of Chenery’s struggle unless someone tells them she’s a fighter in every scene.  It is a remarkable story about some remarkable beings, but this film fails to live up to the standards set by the Triple Crown-winning horse whose name it undeservingly borrows.

Grade: C-

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