Secretariat (2010)


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In terms of live-action, Disney is known for doing a plethora of sports films, so it’s about time that I reviewed a sports film for this blog. And why not start with the sport of horse racing with Disney’s SecretariatThe film is based on the true story of the racehorse of the same name and its owner, Penny Chenery.

Let’s go straight to the horse’s mouth and see if Disney sports films are good or whether this is just a horse of a different color.


And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!

As the film begins, we’re introduced to a family, the Tweedys, going about their daily lives in the year 1969. The family is comprised of the lawyer husband, John Tweedy, played by Dylan Walsh,

A bit different from his Nip/Tuck work, huh?
A bit different from his Nip/Tuck work, huh?

his wife, Penny Tweedy née Chenery, played by Diane Lane,

This was before she adopted Superman.
This was before she adopted Superman.

and a bunch of kids whom I really don’t care about.

"WHAT?! How could you ignore me and my siblings?!"
“WHAT?! How could you ignore me and my siblings?!”

Anyway, Penny Chenery is a dutiful housewife taking care of her husband, her kids, the home, the cooking, the housework, etc. One day, she receives a tragic phone call saying that her mother has passed away.

The family then go to Penny’s parents’ place for the funeral and wake. Penny’s parents own a farm with stables that breed racehorses. Penny gets interested in the future of the stables especially as her father is elderly and not in the perfect state of mind to properly care for the place which is evident when he almost makes a business deal that would have resulted in a great loss.

Penny then decides to take control of the stables and realizes that she needs a good trainer for the horses and is referred Lucien Laurin, played by John Malkovich.

Yep, that's John Malkovich all right!
Yep, that’s John Malkovich all right!

Lucien is a retired French Canadian trainer who doesn’t want to go back to training horses. Nevertheless, Penny stays on at the stables taking care of business which causes friction between her and her husband/family who’d like her to come back home with them.

One day, a monumental coin toss is performed. Apparently, a deal was made between Penny’s father and philanthropist Ogden Phipps, played by James Cromwell, that allowed one of Penny’s father’s horses to mate with one of Ogden Phipps’ horses. As a result of that, two new horses have been created and a coin toss was declared to decide who got to keep which horse. Penny goes to the coin toss in place of her dad, but Ogden wins the toss. He chooses the more desirable of the two horses, and Penny is stuck with the less desirable one, which is, ironically, the one she wanted in the first place.

"It was great doing business with you, Ms. Chenery. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go convince the Disney Studios to put me in one of their animated films."
“It was great doing business with you, Ms. Chenery. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go convince the Disney Studios to put me in one of their animated films.”

When Lucien hears of this, he decides to take up Penny’s offer and goes to work for her. The horse that Penny won in the coin toss later gives birth to a foal. As the foal grows older, Lucien trains it and soon the horse is ready to race under the name Secretariat. Sadly the horse doesn’t win its first race mainly due to having an inexperienced jockey. Hence, Penny goes to recruit a jockey referred to her, Ron Turcotte, played by Otto Thorwarth.

He has battle scars. That's a good sign that he knows what he's doing.
He has battle scars. That’s a good sign that he knows what he’s doing.

This turns out to be a good move as the horse wins the next race thereby getting its name out to the public and in the papers. More races take place and one at a time, Secretariat wins them and gains popularity so much so as to even winning the Horse of the Year award. The next big event is the Triple Crown tournament, three horse races that have not been won by the same horse in 25 years. Penny is sure that Secretariat can break that dry spell and win all three races.

Horse of Legends!
Horse of Legends!

Sadly, Penny’s father dies and Penny and her family have to pay an inheritance tax of over $6 million. The only way that they can get that money is to sell Secretariat, an idea proposed by her husband and her brother, Hollis, played by Dr. Curt Connors Dylan Baker.

Spider-Man's archenemy and Superman's adopter mother were siblings? The superhero universe has just gotten more complicated!
Spider-Man’s archenemy and Superman’s adopter mother were siblings? The superhero universe has just gotten more complicated!

Penny refuses to sell Secretariat insisting that he will win the three races and that they’ll just have to raise the money some other way. I don’t know how I feel about her decision. I feel I would have just sold Secretariat. Debt is a horrible thing to be in and not worth risking! At least, that’s how I see it.

Anyway, Penny decides to raise the money by offering $190,000 “shares” (breeding rights) in Secretariat. (I know so little about horse racing that all of this just goes over my head.)

"Just know that you should appreciate every and all horses and to never look a gift horse in the mouth!"
“Just know that you should appreciate every and all horses and to never look a gift horse in the mouth!”

She calls up as many people as she can one by one, but nobody is willing to spend $190,000 each in Secretariat. That is, until she meets with Ogden Phipps again. At first, he’s unwilling to buy into Secretariat and would rather buy the horse itself. But, with Penny’s insistence that she’s keeping the horse, Ogden gives in and purchases shares of the horse.

After this deal and a brief loss due to Secretariat having an abscess in his mouth, Secretariat is back in the game and manages to win the Triple Crown, being the first horse in 25 years to do so! The movie ends with brief descriptions of the actual people that this movie portrayed and what happened to them later on in life. We even see a cameo of the real Penny Chenery.

Coincidentally, her birthday is this week: she'll be 93!
Coincidentally, her birthday is this week: she’ll be 93!

And that was Secretariat! What to say about this movie? I guess I’ll start with the acting.

Diane Lane gives an AMAZING performance as Penny Chenery. Not quite as perfect as Emma Thompson’s P.L. Travers, but not far behind either. We see Penny Chenery throughout the film and we see how she deals with every decision/opportunity/loss that comes her way. There’s even a scene where she apologizes to Lucien and Ron after mistakenly scolding them for one of Secretariat’s losses. That’s such an admirable quality to admit you were wrong when you were wrong! My friend swanpride even made a post about the character in her feminist Honoring the Heroines series.

Sadly, I think she was the only good actor in this movie. Everybody else wasn’t worth congratulating; they just played themselves. I mean, John Malkovich was John Malkovich. James Cromwell was James Cromwell. And so on and so forth.

"That'll do, Mark. That'll do."
“That’ll do, Mark. That’ll do.”

So this fact, as well as the fact that I don’t think this movie has much replay value will make the movie lose A LOT of points and end up receiving a bad grade from me.

But, that’s not to say that this isn’t a movie that I won’t recommend to others. If you’re a sports fan, especially a horse racing fan, I’d recommend seeing this movie. If you’re a fan of movies that center on female protagonists, then I’d recommend seeing this movie. If you’re a fan of horses, I’d recommend seeing this movie. Just know that I probably won’t be watching it with you.

(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)


So, the final score for this film is 20/35 = 57.14% (F) !

The next review will be posted on February 9th.

15 thoughts on “Secretariat (2010)

  1. You kind of have a point about the acting. But I actually think that the rewatch value of the movie is pretty high. Not because I like it. But because the original reason I watched it because it is one of those movies my sister watched everytime it happend to be on to TV. And she is neither a fan of sports, horses or particularly interested in female characters. I think there is something uplifting about the movie which really speaks to her. And I admit, I will always at the very least watch the last races with her.

    1. Oh, about the shares: The big money in racing is not in the race itself, it is in breeding. What Penny sold were the rights to have Secretariat breed with the horses of the people who bought in. Basically they paid a little less to get the right now as they would have had to pay two whoever the owner of the horse would have been after it won. Those shares are one of the reasons why Secretariats racing career was fairly short, and why he fathered so many fowls later on.

  2. I have mixed feelings about this movie. I think it is slickly made and entertaining with what it is trying to do. However, I have an issue with cheering on a person who leaves her family for months on end when they really need her. And yes I would have the same issue for a man or a woman. Chasing your dream is one thing but family should be most important. In real life her kids were less than thrilled to not have a mother at home.

  3. Oh and I agree with you on the debt. I know it is meant to show she takes risks but when your family is at stake it’s a fine line between reckless and risk taker. I like you would have sold the horse and used the money to help my family or I would have moved the family near the stables. . 🙂

      1. Family first! “No success can compensate for failure in the home”. My Mom had that on her fridge.

  4. I enjoy this film, mostly because I am a horse person and had heard a lot about Secretariat over the years. It’s a good watch for fans of the genre as you say, but probably not as interesting for others.

    About the coin toss though, it was to determine who got which of the two foals that were going to be born. Phipps stallion was bred to two of Chenery’s mares. The way you have it written now it seems like the toss is to determine who keeps the mare and who keeps the foal.

    As for the acting, I’ve heard that apparently Lucien is very similar to Malkovich in personality, he’s just a horse trainer instead of an actor. However, I’ll agree with you that the rest of the actors aside from Penny’s, aren’t giving the best performances.

    1. Oh ok, like I said before, I’m so ignorant of horse racing that many of what happened in the film I don’t get including the coin toss. Thanks for explaining it!

      Oh ok, so maybe John Malkovich was playing Lucien perfectly. But, he still seemed to be John Malkovich to me.

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