- 06 Dec 10
Given that I originally thought Secretariat was a sexy, edgy S&M movie about James Spader and his pet mare, you can only imagine my disappointment
There are many things wrong with Randall Wallace’s Secretariat. It’s overlong, schmaltzy and predictable (even for a true story); the dialogue is script-by-numbers; the score is verging on the ridiculous; and it features the usual caricatured stereotypes. Given that I originally thought Secretariat was a sexy, edgy S&M movie about James Spader and his pet mare, you can only imagine my disappointment.
It’s 1969 and Penny Chenery (Diane Lane, hidden under a bad wig and bizarrely distracting blue contacts) is a bland housewife, who agrees to take over her ailing father’s stables despite her husband’s misgivings (and the disadvantage of a distinct lack of knowledge about horses). The key moment arrives when she loses a coin toss and gets a horse no-one else wants, which just happens to turn out to be the best racehorse that ever lived. And that’s the theme of the film – goddamn luck.
Penny doesn’t do anything apart from standing around in white kid-gloves spouting clichés like “You never know how far you can go unless you run”. Meanwhile, the horse’s eccentric trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich, aiming for comic relief by wearing silly hats) demonstrates his expertise by essentially saying “Dude, just let him be a horse. The horse knows, man. For serious.” To emphasise this point, there are several meaningful close-ups of the horse’s eyes, which would have been incredibly moving had the horse been played by Michelle Williams and not a confused quadruped with no formal drama school background.
Wallace raises obstacle after obstacle to emphasize the underdog aspect of the story, but the characters’ passivity and sense of entitlement make the wins feel completely empty. Add in a simple stable-hand (Nelsan Ellis), who mostly talks to the horse unless he’s offering the mandatory friendly black optimistic advice while ‘Oh Happy Days’ blares, and it’s like Songs of the South all over again.
The race scenes are impressively kinetic as Wallace uses slow-motion shots, low camera angles and archived footage to imbue the races with excitement, but it’s not enough to lift this Hallmark snooze-fest. Rent Seabiscuit instead.