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Upon the death of her mother and subsequent illness of her father, Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) must get her family’s horse farm out of its financial rut. The film chronicles Chenery as she pushes the famous racehorse to win the Triple Crown. While Secretariat, the latest sports drama from Disney, showed promise to be one of the year’s most admirable crowd-pleasers, it does not live up to such promise.
Sports dramas have the power to entertain, to uplift, to inspire. Unfortunately, Disney’s Secretariat does none of those things. Besides the dull and vapid writing that poorly tells the racehorse’s incredible story, the real problem here is director Randall Wallace. He never infuses Secretariat with any tension or true conflict whatsoever, preferring formulaic scene set-ups and tired clichés.
Lane’s performance doesn’t make matters any better as it is shockingly something of a mixed mess. She hardly ever hits the right notes and her best acting moments feel histrionic and calculated at best. Her only true moments of brilliance lie in her narrations at the beginning and end of the film.
The supporting cast is much more impressive, though. Margo Martindale does a fine job subtly playing the secretary Miss Ham and John Malkovich infuses lots of charisma into trainer Lucien Laurin, though the writing does him no justice. Great but likely to be underappreciated work comes from Amanda Michalka as one of Chenery’s daughters and Nelsan Ellis of True Blood fame as groom Eddie Sweat.
While it is perhaps one of the greatest vocal pieces ever, the song “O Happy Day” is used in a perplexing, odd, and flat-out nonsensical manner several times throughout the course of the film. Given that the story of Secretariat is one of the greatest in sports history, the film generally feels the same way.
Directed by Randall Wallace
Written by Mike Rich (book), William Nack (suggestion)
Starring: Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Margo Martindale