The danger of marketing a movie like Walt Disney's Secretariat is that it one - is a movie about the male-dominated sport of Horse Racing and two - at the same time, it is a female-centric story. It's understandable that if you're not into Horse Racing or a lover of stories with strong females, this might not be a film on your radar. What you need to understand though is that although Horse Racing obviously is a v. integral part of the film, we see this world through the eyes of a Heroine who like many of us, might not know a lot about the sport; we grow with her. Above all else, the story has an infinite supply of heart and soul which transcends everything. The Horse, The Trainer, The Jockey, The Owner are simply metaphors in this tale of perseverance and undying faith in one's dreams.
Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) steps-up to the daunting task of continuing the legacy her father created with his legendary Meadow Stable in this film based on the true story of the 1973 Triple Crown Winner Secretariat. In the face of his deteriorating health, she finds herself having to learn the ropes of running a stable at record pace, but matters become complicated when she doesn't garner the support of her husband Jack (Dylan Walsh) who would rather see her at home in her role as Homemaker. Above this, she is confronted with the ugly face of Sexism in the Sport of Kings, having to fight that extra bit harder to be taken seriously in negotiations.
Chenery becomes fixated on a young horse bred by her father, enlisting the expertise of flamboyantly-dressed French Canadian Trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich) and aggressive Jockey Ron Turcotte (Otto Thorwarth). Despite a shaky start, the horse known affectionately as Big Red by his handlers, becomes eventually the World's Greatest Race Horse, delivering much promise as Horse of the Year in his first year of racing. With expectations mounting in his campaign to win the U.S. Triple Crown and at the same time financial problems burdening Meadow Stable, will Chenery and Secretariat overcome the odds stacked against them?
Despite the history books having already been written on the matter, third-time Director Randall Wallace crafts a gripping piece of Cinema which hits all the right emotional notes with Secretariat. In the Race sequences, we never feel that the Horse is invincible and although the film borders on almost Saccharine, this works beautifully here as there is no other way to tell a story so heart-felt and visceral. Dean Semler's Cinematography is absolutely breathtaking, fully capturing the air of excitement and anxiety at the Races.
And now let's touch upon the performances in Secretariat. Diane Lane puts forth her best work in quite some time, almost perfect as an always in-control yet self-doubting Chenery. I don't feel necessarily that this will get her the Oscar nomination she would receive in a less competitive year, but nonetheless she is mesmerizing and fully understands the psyche of the woman she is portraying. Malkovich is perfection as always in the role of Laurin, providing many moments of laughter with his self-assuredness and Margo Martindale as Chenery's Secretary Miss Ham, is just wonderful in her supporting role; a refreshing change from the despicable roles she normally takes on. Thorwarth as Secretariat's Jockey, becomes fully immersed in one of many stellar performances here.
Walt Disney's Secretariat is a beautiful, inspiring story and perhaps it's only fault is that it ignores some of the subtle realities and rigors of Horse Racing. The film hits theatres Friday, October 8, 2010 and I would love to see it again at some point. Grade: A