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Secretariat – Review


Penny Chenery (Diane Lane), the daughter of a horse-breeder Chris Chenery (Scot Glen), is a housewife, living with her lawyer husband, Jack Tweeny (Dylan Walsh) and her 4 children. When her mother dies, she leaves behind an ailing father and a failing horse farm. Penny’s brother Hollis (Dylan Baker), a Harvard professor, is eager to sell the farm in order to avoid a large inheritance tax. Her husband also urges her to do the same. Penny, however, is adamant that she is going to keep the farm and continue her father’s legacy.

With no experience in the male-dominated business of horse breeding, she loses a coin toss with a rival breeder, Odgen Phipps (James Cromwell), which determines the first pick of two foals produced by Phipps’ stallion. Penny, nonetheless, is convinced that she got the better one.

Penny embraces the newborn chestnut-colored colt, Secretariat, and hires a flamboyant French Canadian trainer, Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich) and a stubbornly persistent jockey, Ronnie Turcotte (Otto Thorwarth), to turn it into an unbeatable racing machine, breaking all records and winning the 1973 Triple Crown.


This is the remarkable true story of the racehorse, Secretariat, a feat in genetic engineering that possessed the best genetic match to make a champion. In 1973, the unbeatable Secretariat marveled audiences in the US and around the world when it won the Triple Crown.

Behind this remarkable miracle is Penny Chenery, the housewife who lacked the knowledge and expertise in horse breeding, but had the unshakable conviction in Secretariat’s special powers and the unwavering determination to turn it into a phenomenon. She is truly the champion of this story.

Not only does Penny have to face the sneers of men in the horse-racing business, but she also has to confront her unsupportive husband and frustrated brother. Women are going to love watching a gentle yet steely Penny beating men in their own male-dominated game.

The film hits perfectly all the dramatic points, as stakes keep rising higher against Penny, which makes one suspect that the film makers took too much liberty in stretching the credibility limits of the true story in order to infuse it with the suspense and dramatic tension. Well, this is a Disney production, and as we all know, Disney doesn’t do documentaries.

The film is also speckled with redundant expositions. Sometimes, we don’t see the characters doing their jobs, yet they keep telling each other how great in their job they were. We see John Malkovich being flamboyant, which he does brilliantly, but we don’t see him training a horse. In fact, the film leaves us wondering what does a horse trainer do?

Diane Lane looks dull, but delivers a decent performance, combining the warmth of a mother, the confidence of a boss and the steeliness of a businesswoman.

Undoubtedly though, the most enjoyable element of this film is the heart-throbbing, nail-biting horse races. The framing and shot choices of the director draw us inside the racing track as if we were riding Secretariat and galloping with him to an euphoric triumph. It’s spectacular!

This is a feel-good movie that will certainly offer nostalgia for those who witnessed Secretariat’s victorious journey in the 70’s and a thrill, and even revelation, to the younger ones.

Opens nationwide 28th Novermber 2010



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