Monday, October 11, 2010


(Secretariat winning the Triple Crown June 9,1973)

I just saw SECRETARIAT. The horse deserved a better movie.

You have to know I love Secretariat. I have articles about the horse written by the great Bill Nack under my bed. I know arcane little details about the greatest racehorse of all time-like he had a perfect heart --except that it was more than twice the size of normal horse's heart. I am a Secretariat groupie. He inspires me. He is my hero. I have watched that final Triple Crown race at Belmont so many times, where he wins by 31 lengths -- and my heart practically stops every time I see it. (The video above tells the tale.) While all the other creatures were stuck on earth, Secretariat seemed to be running in a different universe. The movie doesn't begin to capture the shock and awe of this incomparable athletic feat, and how it must have astonished everyone who was there to see it that day June 9,1973.

What we've got here is a disneyfication in progress. It feels small, clumsy, and contrived. There are clunky voice-overs designed to elevate the story to the level of myth. Secretariat's real accomplishments ARE already mythic. John Malkovich as grouchy eccentric trainer Lucien Laurin comes dangerously close to playing it like someone's dotty old uncle. Diane Lane as owner Penny Chenery looks too deliberately dowdy and delivers equally starchy, exposition-laden dialogue. In one climactic scene, her husband rushes into a ballroom with the kids on the eve of the Belmont (didn't she know they were coming?) and earnestly declares,"You've taught our children how to believe in themselves, and you've taught me something too." And that taught me Director Randall Wallace sure has an ear for corn.

And what is with this family? The film never fleshes out its dynamics. One daughter is "rebellious" and is preparing for a protest march decked out like an escapee from the Partridge family. Why weren't they at the Derby? and the Preakness? Instead, they watch it on TV which is one way to avoid having to stage it I suppose. I believe the filmmakers do use actual footage of the real race but it's strangely anticlimactic. I've already mentioned that they completely blow the climactic race at Belmont. The best race dramatized is the first one, the Kentucky Derby. And the filmmakers do a pretty good job of conveying the sheer intensity and visceral power of an animal that fleet and beautiful exploding out of the gate and tearing up the ground. Jockeys take their lives in their hands.

If you want to see a great horse movie, rent SEABISCUIT.
If you want to know more about Secretariat, read William Nack.
SECRETARIAT the movie is just coasting on its title; the horse leaves this film in the dust.


  1. I watched Secretariat win each of those three races - that clip really took me back in time. Wow. Thanks for the post.

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