As a critic, I’m faced with many different choices each week. You’d be surprised how much my inbox is flooded with invitations to movie screenings each and every day. Naturally, some of them overlap and, being only one man, I am unable to attend them all. Because of this, I sometimes I have to pay for a movie that I missed. Secretariat is the latest example. It screened at least four times leading up to today, its release date, but I somehow managed to skip every one. With no theaters doing midnight screenings in my immediate area, I had to go out of my way to see it and the outcome is the worst possible one. I’m not upset I saw it, but there certainly wasn’t a need to.
You see, if I’m going to stay up late and force in a movie, I want there to be something substantial to say about it, but Secretariat is exactly what I thought it would be. It’s the true story of a horse who won the Triple Crown and this film shows the events leading up to each of those three races. It’s a Disney movie through and through, where good people do good things and fight for good no matter what. It’s a feel good, if a bit hammy, story about overcoming adversity and putting faith in something despite sometimes overwhelming odds.
I suppose the main difference this time around, however, is that it’s more dramatic than your typical Disney fare. Laughs run light in this thing and in it no less than three people die, chance occurrences that are usually followed by an over exaggerated sadness. This is the type of movie where nobody should ever have anything in their hands because they’re liable to drop it when told bad news.
In fact, much of it plays out like a badly written TV movie, complete with long, remorseful speeches at the foot of a loved one’s deathbed and frivolous arguments full of theatrical rhetoric that are solved on the spot and never brought up again. It fails so hard when trying to be serious that it comes off as laughable. At one point, Secretariat falls ill and his owner, Penny, played by Diane Lane, quietly stares into his eyes and more or less cures him. While the filmmakers were no doubt going for a type of understanding between the two, where the owner can sense whether or not her horse is healthy, it is nevertheless more likely to conjure up chuckles.
Even with all of that, Secretariat is an upbeat movie—these Disney dramas never go too dark—and the happiness onscreen rubs off on the audience. You’ll cheer as the horse rounds each turn and your heart will pump ferociously as he attempts to take the lead. Somehow, this movie makes horse racing exciting, though it goes too far in its jockey point of view shots where there is a noticeable dip in visual quality.
I’d love to use the phrase, “What it all boils down to…” right now, but I can’t because the truth is it doesn’t boil down to much of anything. For every one thing it does right, it does three things wrong. Examples include unexplored side plots detailing Penny’s daughter’s foray into political protesting and a timeline that flies by carelessly. Before I knew it, three years had gone by and I wasn’t aware we were even through the week.
I’ve spent little time detailing the actual story of Secretariat because you either know it or you don’t. If you do, this will entertain you. If you don’t, it’s just another middle-of-the-road picture that isn't worth your time. Sure, what Secretariat accomplished is impressive if you care about this sort of thing, but horse racing isn’t the most popular of sports and by the end, if you’re like me, you’ll be asking yourself, “So what?”
Secretariat receives 2/5