Horse films let alone horse racing films have been around for quite some time- HIDALGO, DREAMER and SEABISCUIT being the more popular and most recent. The latter receiving a handful of award nominations covers a very similar storyline to SECRETARIAT. Since the genre is not necessarily fresh, the key is to try and find a different angle still building tension and excitement when history has already given the audience the final outcome. Surprisingly, SECRETARIAT achieves all of that proving to be an entertaining and exciting film for all ages.
Based on a true story, housewife Penny Chenery Tweedy, played with gusto and power by Diane Lane, finds herself in charge of the family owned Virginia based Meadow Stables after the death of her mother and sickness of her father. Against the request of her brother, husband and children, Penny is determined not to sell Meadow Stables. Instead she hires a veteran horse trainer, Lucien Laurin, played masterfully by John Malkovich and a passionate jockey (Otto Thorwarth) to work with what she believes will be an exceptionally talented horse. Along with her trusted help from Miss Ham (Margo Martindale) and caretaker Eddie Sweat (Nelsan Ellis), the unlikely team does the inconceivable feat of leading their nearly perfect horse, Secretariat, to win the Triple Crown.
The different angle SECRETARIAT takes is the horse was not the underdog. In fact, the horse was an amazing specimen defying normal mechanics of what an animal should be able to accomplish. Posing for cameras and pouty after a loss, Secretariat seemed to be aware of his greatness. The underdog is owner Penny Chenery. Being a woman in a man-driven business, believing in a stubborn horse and determined not to lose the family ranch, Penny overcomes many obstacles. While balancing work and family, Penny and her team manage to handle the greatest horse to ever compete.
The directing by Randall Wallace definitely reflects a master craftsman, which trickles down to the rest of the filmmaking aspects. The acting, costuming, and especially cinematography are exquisite. The editing of the horse racing puts the audience in the midst of the excitement. As the dirt hits the camera the experience of the jockey is nearly replicated. Knowing how each race would turn out, I still found myself nervous on the edge of my seat rooting for Secretariat, the best horse on the track that was sure to win.
After so many horse racing films, the enthusiasm to watch SECRETARIAT was lost. But like the horse, it comes from behind and completely wins the heart over. Not only is it a fun ride but also great filmmaking and deserves all the credit for sparking a desire in me to learn more about the sport. If you are thinking of putting some money down, let it ride on SECRETARIAT. It’s more than a safe bet that can be recommended to everyone.
Video: (2.35:1 Aspect Ratio) Exquisitely stunning using vibrant colors.
Audio: (5.1 DTS-HD) Terrific sound especially during the racing scenes incorporating the hooves against the muddy track and the cheers from the crowd.
Audio Commentary by Director Randall Wallace: Wallace seems like a very kind man who speaks like a loving grandfather really caring about the film. He gives a tender commentary expressing great detail of his feelings making it.
Heart of a Champion (14:45): Taking a look at real footage from the original races of Secretariat, the actual people involved and the actors who played them all discuss the history and greatness of the magnificent horse.
Choreographing the Races (6:24): An interesting look at the difficulty of recreating the races so they match the history.
A Director’s Inspiration: A Conversation with the Real Penny Chenery (21:10): Director Randall Wallace sits down with Secretariat’s owner in a very candid interview. I highly recommend this to any serious fans of the movie or story. She is extremely direct and unbashful with her thoughts and views of certain scenes and reveals surprising true stories.
Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary (10:30): Seven short scenes beautifully shot but didn’t add anything too important that I’m sure were cut for rhythm and flow reasons.
Secretariat Multi-Angle Simulation: You can choose five different view points from a jockey, reporter, historian, spectator or the actual original race as each discuss their thoughts as a computer simulation of the race is played.
Music Video (4:02): A.J. Michalka sings, “It’s Who You Are” with scenes from the film peppered throughout.