Secretariat (U)

The ViewBristol Review

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Review byMatthew Turner03/12/2010

Two out of Five stars
Running time: 123 mins

Disappointing, frequently dull racehorse drama that's let down by poorly written characters, a thinly stretched plot, a painful lack of dramatic tension and a cliché-heavy script.

What's it all about?
Directed by Randall Wallace, Secretariat is based on the true story of the 1973 Triple Crown winner, who set records that still stand today and is regarded as the world's greatest racehorse. The story begins in 1969, when Colorado housewife and mother Penny Chenery Tweedy (Diane Lane) agrees to take over her ailing father's (Scott Glenn) stables in Virginia, despite her lack of horse racing knowledge.

When Penny spots a particularly feisty horse, she becomes convinced it can win races and she begins to train it with the aid of flamboyant trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich), jockey Ron Turcotte (real-life jockey Otto Thorwarth) and horse-whispering groom Eddie Sweat (True Blood's Nelsan Ellis). However, as the horse (which she calls Secretariat but whose stable name is Big Red) races to success, Penny's family feel increasingly neglected.

The Good
Unsurprisingly, the best moments in the film are the racing scenes, which Wallace livens up by using a horse-cam to give us Secretariat's point of view, before inexplicably abandoning the idea in favour of some ridiculous anthropomorphic nonsense that seems to belong to a different film (e.g. Secretariat trash-snorting another horse).

The Bad
The performances are fine, if a little one-note: the film-makers are clearly hoping for some Oscar attention for Lane, but her role is hampered by the fact that her story isn't all that remarkable and there's no real conflict for her to kick against: the script quickly sanitises any hint of sexism from her competition. Similarly, Malkovich does a half-arsed French accent and lets his clothes do all the acting, while all the other characters are hideously underwritten, meaning that the likes of Dylan Walsh (as Penny's husband), Dylan Baker (as Penny's brother), Glenn and particularly Ellis get next to nothing to do.

Aside from the underwritten characters, the film's biggest problem is the complete lack of dramatic tension; in order to win the Triple Crown, Secretariat needs to win all three races, so it basically feels like you're watching the same sequence three times in a row and Wallace does nothing to distinguish each race from the next.

Worth seeing?
This is a disappointing drama that's let down by plodding direction, a thinly-stretched plot and a script that fails to connect on an emotional level. Watch Seabiscuit again instead.

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Content updated: 08/12/2010 07:04

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