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MOVIE REVIEW: Secretariat

Disney movie never gets off to the races

Secretariat: Rates a D+.
Courtesy photo

For much of the movie, I thought it would be a photo finish...as to whether I gave this movie a good review or a bad review. And then, the last half hour…just like Secretariat did with the huge lead it took in the final race…it became clear I would have to give this movie a negative review.

I have nothing against horses. I liked The Horse Whisperer (Did I really just admit that?). I liked the half of Seabiscuit that I saw.

And I wanted to like this.

Diane Lane was wonderful, and might get an Oscar nomination. I dug the fact that she played this strong woman, getting involved in something that was a boys club that probably wasn’t so friendly to her. In fact, I think a lot of this story is grittier than the Disney version gives us on screen.

I thought the music was overwhelming and loud. I thought the movie was much too conventional a sports film.

Maybe the problem is that we know Secretariat will succeed, so when we have moments where a husband and brother, want the woman to sell the farm – she instead bets the farm – on the horse being a success. We never have to worry if she made the right decision.

I loved the cast.

Senator Fred Thompson had a nice air about him, playing a really caring guy that also seemed rough around the edges.

James Cromwell always has that voice that, when he’s telling you why you should do something, you figure you should. I loved him so much more in Babe. I dunno, maybe I like pig movies better. But then, I also liked Cromwell better when he played Stretch Cunningham in that episode of All in the Family.

And speaking of pigs, remember when Samuel Jackson goes on that rant in Pulp Fiction, about how he doesn’t like pigs or bacon? He admits to kind of liking Arnold on Green Acres. Well, I might be ready for another horse movie when it’s the remake of Mr. Ed. Come on, you know it’s going to happen. Every other TV show has been remade.

As I watched the movie, I thought John Malkovich was perfectly cast as the eccentric horse trainer. Thinking about it a few days later, I didn’t care as much for the performance. We’ve seen Malkovich do these types of characters before (I liked him doing it last in the underrated The Great Buck Howard a few years ago).

As a kid, I was fascinated by Scott Glenn on screen. He had this presence that just scared me. He and Bruce Dern were two actors that just gave a look that gave me goose bumps.

In this, he isn’t given much to do, as a man with dementia and in the process of dying. Oh, and note to filmmakers – when you call a family member to say someone has died, do we really need to have the character drop and break what they’re holding? It used to be a powerful scene, but now it’s just cliché.

I think about how in The World According to Garp (one of my all-time favorite films), Robin Williams gets a call that his mom had died. You see Williams on the porch, sensing something was wrong. We hear, but don’t see the caller sound shocked on the phone. Williams merely puts his head down, knowing what has happened. No goofy screams or vases dropping. And it’s very powerful.

A few of the horse racing scenes were dramatic, and they filmed well. I was wondering with those goggles the jockeys wear, would they keep all the dirt out of my eyes or would I be having problems with my contact lenses.

I was also trying to decide which facts at the end of the movie I liked more. The scroll at the end of Social Network that showed Zuckerberg settled for $65 million with one guy suing him, and at 26 became the youngest billionaire ever; or the one in Secretariat that said after all those amazing runs, he fathered 600. Talk about some stamina. This horse is rivaling Wilt Chamberlain.

I’m giving it a D+.