Having a great story to tell doesn't necessarily mean that one is going to end up with a great movie. Is story an important component in putting together a film? Unquestionably, but it isn't the only thing and while it can help minimize other issues, it doesn't always completely make up for them. Watching 2010's Secretariat it is abundantly clear that the tale of the 1973 Triple Crown winner may be a good one, but that the movie fails to convey it in a satisfying way.
Directed by Randall Wallace and starring Diane Lane as Penny Chenery Tweedy, the horse's owner, Secretariat features some truly outstanding camera and editing work during the race sequences but never captures the audience's imagination at any other point. Although the film's name might indicate that it is about the horse, the vast majority of it is actually about Penny herself. However, her character is never developed in an interesting fashion. In fact, no character in the film is ever truly developed at all.
The story begins simply enough, with Penny deciding to split time between her family out west and her father's horse stables in Virginia. It's a decision that her husband, Jack Tweedy (Dylan Walsh) doesn't approve of, nor does her brother, Hollis Chenery (Dylan Baker). Penny, out of loyalty to her ailing father (Scott Glenn), ignores their wishes and does it anyway. While at one point in time the stables may have been successful, Penny finds that those days are long past and works at fixing the situation. Through no fault of her own, Penny ends up with a horse that she thinks has the right lineage to be a great race horse and sets about proving her intuition correct.
As some of the bonus materials included on the Blu-ray release acknowledge, the story of Secretariat isn't the story of an underdog who comes from behind to beat the odds. The horse wasn't an underdog and the film does not state that he was, but it does fail to provide any other real dramatic hook to the piece. Yes, Penny is an unlikely owner. Yes, she does hire an oddball trainer, Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich). And yes, she does occasionally struggle with her husband and brother about the right way to proceed. However, none of those things ever really threaten to derail her, she just keeps moving forward despite the small obstacles in her path.