Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Secretariat

"Housewife and mother Penny Chenery agrees to take over her ailing father's Virginia-based Meadow Stables, despite her lack of horse-racing knowledge. Against all odds, Chenery -- with the help of veteran trainer Lucien Laurin -- manages to navigate the male-dominated business, ultimately fostering the first Triple Crown winner in twenty-five years."

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

I finally got around to seeing Secretariat, the 2010 film about one of the great race horses of all time, if not the greatest. The movie was well done, for what it's worth. John Malkovich, in his roll as the trainer, was his usual unusual self and helped keep the film's entertainment value from lapsing.

Diane Lane as Penny Chenery Tweedy does an admirable job of being the tough mama who is the driving force behind Big Red's success. Not being familiar with the actual story behind the scenes, it was interesting to see the inner workings of modern horse racing. The Secretariat fable takes place in the early Seventies against a backdrop of Viet Nam, so there's a bit of spice added as Mrs. Tweedy's daughters get involved with a bit of the anti-war consciousness that prevailed among students of that time.

Efforts were made to create tension, but we all knew how it would end so these little attempts to create false drama felt hollow. For example, someone noted that one famous horse's heart burst because he'd run so hard, and when Secretariat was galloping so incredible hard at the Belmont Stakes it might be that he was also endangering himself. Since we all knew the outcome in advance, the nail-biting seemed almost silly.

Some readers here will remember the story of how my sister-in-law Rosemarie got to see Secretariat in all three of those races to win the 1973 Triple Crown. Not only did she see Secretariat and Sham do their show, she also bet Secretariat to win with Sham second in all three races. At the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, she and her older sister shared quite a bit of jubilation. Alas, poor Sham was burned out at the Belmont.

Some of the reviewers at imdb.com called this the best or one of the best sports movies ever. I guess I didn't see it that way. Nice film by a director who knows how to make films, with a resume that includes Braveheart and Pearl Harbor, but when it's over it's pretty much, "Yeah, O.K. that was interesting." I just didn't care that much about all these people for some reason.

The feelgood ending with "Oh Happy Day" seemed designed to help everyone leave the theater with hearts lifted, and I guess that's O.K., too. But the next morning, life goes on and there is very little takeaway.

A bit of trivia here: several horses played Secretariat in the film... and the actual Penny Chenery picked the horse that played "Big Red" by means of a lookalike contest. Must have been fun for her a re-live a bit of her own personal history. All I have are a few photos of myself from that time. But I remember it well. 1973 was an interesting, even life changing, year for many of us.

For the record, you can see the real Secretariat at the Belmont right here on YouTube.

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