In Secretariat, the new biopic about a racing legend equine of the same name, the action leaves you on the edge of your trackside seat while the emotion carries you swiftly away. Diane Lane stars as Penny Tweedy Chenery, a woman who was raised around the horses of her father’s farm but finds herself as a wife and mother disconnected from who she once was.
Upon her mother’s death and due to her father’s declining health, Tweedy begins to spend more time involved in the affairs of the farm in Virginia and away from her family in Colorado. She is determined to succeed at saving the farm and all her father had worked to build.
Her conviction is perhaps rivaled only by that of the little red colt bred, bound, and determined to run. And run he does, right into the horse hall of fame. It was only a matter of time before Disney put its modern day stamp on this story. Horses have a direct line to the hearts of moviegoers everywhere and Secretariat is no different.
Diane Lane delivers a performance as elegant and poised as her character, and John Malkovich, well known for roles on stage as well as the 1988 film Dangerous Liaisons, offers up wit and grit as the talented trainer Lucien Laurin. Laurin is resistant at first to Tweedy’s proposal to work with her. He is haunted by his past failures but he agrees and is predictably endearing. Also endearing is the female sidekick and secretary responsible for the horse’s name, Miss Ham, played by Margo Martindale.
The film pays homage to the era in which the story takes place, with a nod to the hippie movement and a slight touch on racial tension surrounding Secretariat’s charismatic groom played by Nelsan Ellis of True Blood and The Soloist.
All of these ingredients may not be new to the idea of a horse film. What was new to this viewer, however, were the efforts in cinematography. The camera not only takes you to the race but under the hooves and alongside the saddles of the racing competitors as well. You feel as if you are astride a great horse and crossing the finish line leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else.
The emotion is instilled in the viewer from the get go. The opening lines of the film are poetic and speak to the horse lover in many of us when it says “In frenzied excitement he eats up the ground. He paws fiercely, rejoicing in his strength.” So too, does this film.
The only way this film could have improved would be to show more of the magnificent horses that star in it. As it is, the film is carried by its human cast. This is done rightly so in a lot of ways as the film identifies with us better because of it.
This movie is not just about telling a story that is amazing in its reality. It is not just about the beauty and power of a horse. It is about inner strength and not just believing in something or someone else, but in believing in yourself, in “running your race.” Secretariat is fearless in running this race to the box office.