Saturday, 20 August 2011


Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Available now to rent or own on DVD and Blu-ray

Much like the titular horse at the centre of this story - the 'Big Red' stallion who famously came from behind in his races to win more often than not and, most importantly [Spoiler Alert] the Triple Crown in 1973 - Secretariat takes a while to get going.

It's almost 25 minutes into the film before the horse is even born. That's in a stable of course, but that's not where the Messianic allusions end. A Biblical poem opens the film and 'O Happy Day' is recited more than once on the soundtrack, to drive home the idea that, while not exactly the Second Coming, Secretariat was a horse like no other, before or since.

Thankfully, director Randall Wallace's film is not as heavy going as a wet track and, for the most part, is a fully enganging story even though the ending is never in doubt (unless you've never heard of Secretariat, in which case I'd suggest you not read on).

With the passing of her mother, Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) returns to her family horse ranch to put things in order for her ailing father (Scott Glenn). The farm has racked up a mountain of debt but despite her husband (a lost Dylan Walsh) and brother's insistence to cut their losses and sell, Penny just can't let go of her childhood memories, nor the possibility that something great may yet still come of this place.

And it does. Big Red is born and soon becomes the horse on which Penny, her father's secretary Miss Ham (Margo Martindale), stablehand Eddie Sweat (Nelsan Ellis), and her newly intsalled trainer, the cantekerous, semi-retired French-Canadian, Lucien Lauren (John Malkovich), place their hopes and dreams. Like Penny, Lucien sees something special in the horse whose appetite for oats is matched only by his speed and desire to win.

Dean Semler's cinematography puts us right there on the horse's back as Secretariat and his jockey, Ronnie Turcotte (Otto Thorwarth), storm round the track, always coming from behind to not only pip their rivals at the post but often to humiliate them. And never more so than in the final race which sees Secretariat secure the Triple Crown, over a distance he had not raced before and was believed by all experts (but not his team) to be incapable of surmounting.

Apparently there is YouTube footage (and why wouldn't there be?) of Secretariat's races: proof positive that the stallion's speed was as claimed and not some Hollywood, feel good concoction. Not that that's not what Secretariat is. For all intents and purposes it is a sports movie, travailing the ups and downs of the team, overcoming insurmountable odds and proving the doubters wrong.

Lane is solid as the housewife who, in the role of racehorse owner, regains a passion for life she thought gone once she married and had children; and Malkovich is, as always, good value though his run of odd ball characters of late is beginning to wear thin.

While the ending is never in doubt, whether you know the ending or not, Secretariat is a more than enjoyable ride.

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