If you venture to the theater to see “Secretariat,” I am sure most of you will love it. Walt Disney Studios has made several of these sports-themed movies that are very popular and generate a large box office.
Diane Lane is nice in this role and may get an Oscar nomination for best actress. She plays a very determined housewife named Penny Tweedy, who takes on a male-dominated sport. She powerfully walks into an all-male club in order to talk to a fellow racehorse owner. She stands on her own two feet and is unstoppable. She wants to do well for herself and for her father.
All of this is nice, but I don’t like this movie. There, I said it. It just doesn’t ring true with me. It must be my age.
Being 52 means I remember well when Secretariat ran for the Triple Crown. I know the times and the story. As the movie covers the races, I know what’s going to happen, and, of course, everyone knows what happens in the end. But that’s not what I really dislike about this movie.
There is a reference at the beginning to the way John Malkovich’s character, Lucien Laurin, dresses. His clothes are loud, and he wears outlandish hats. Bull Hancock (Fred Dalton Thompson), a breeder friend of Penny’s father, tells her to get Laurin, a retired horse trainer. But he warns her of his sartorial ways, saying, “He dresses like Super Fly.” The problem is it’s supposed to be 1969, and “Super Fly” was released in 1973. This type of gaffe makes me suspect the whole thing and drives me crazy.
At the beginning of the movie, we are read words from Job 39 – part of God’s response to Job’s complaint. This gives the movie an aura of faith, as do some of the songs used. But with the characters, there is no religious faith on display. Faith really seems to be nothing more than a gamble on a horse.
In addition to Malkovich’s character, two other characters aid Penny. There is Mrs. Ham (Margo Martindale), secretary for the stables owned by Penny’s father (Scott Glenn). Her role is to always walk up to Penny when there is bad news and place a reassuring hand on her shoulder. She also dispenses information no one else knows about the horses, but that’s it. There’s no character development at all.
Then there is Eddie Sweat (Nelsan Ellis), Secretariat’s groom. He is spoken of as having great insight into the horses, but Eddie’s role is written in a near “Stepin Fetchit” manner.
The other male characters are nothing more than stumbling blocks placed before Penny. Her husband, Jack (Dylan Walsh), does not support her dreams of seeing this horse become all it can be. When Penny’s brother (Dylan Baker) wants to sell the stables and the horses, Jack sides with the brother. They stand together as family against their sister and wife.
“Secretariat” does offer some goods, namely the racing footage itself, which beautifully shows how it must look to be in a horse race.
But “Secretariat” just didn’t ring true to me. It felt like a contrived story of a significant event in sports history. The dramatic narrative never fully materializes, and I felt unrewarded for my suspension of disbelief.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG for brief mild language.
Director: Randall Wallace
Writer: Mike Rich (based on the book by William Nack)
Cast: Diane Lane: Penny Tweedy; John Malkovich: Lucien Laurin; Scott Glenn: Mr. Chenery; Dylan Walsh: Jack Tweedy; Margo Martindale: Mrs. Ham; Nelsan Ellis: Eddie Sweat; Dylan Baker: Hollis Chenery; Fred Dalton Thompson: Bull Hancock.
The movie’s website is here.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.