Review: Secretariat (2010)

Note: This post contains a portion of a review originally written for CaryCitizen.  To read the full review, click here.

Are you tired of feeling down in the dumps?  Frustrated by recession woes?  Don’t worry, there’s a new movie out there that’s sure to make you feel better!  It’s about a horse, and it will remind you that if people were able to overcome incredible obstacles in the past, surely you can overcome all of your problems now!

At least, that seems to be the thrust of the marketing for Secretariat, the latest in Disney’s ever-growing series of inspirational sports films based on true stories.  Set in the early 1970s, it follows Penny Chenery (Diane Lane), a well-to-do housewife whose father has become too ill to take care of the family farm.  Despite being urged to sell it, she realizes that one of the colts of a pregnant mare has the genes rendering him a potential racing champion.  The ownership of the colt was to be determined by a coin toss with a millionaire named Ogden Phipps (James Cromwell).  It’s a coin toss Chenery loses, but she ends up with the colt she wants anyway after he chooses another.  Called “Big Red” off the track and “Secretariat” on, the horse is Chenery’s only chance to save her family’s property, but he’ll only be valuable enough if he wins the Triple Crown.  Spoiler from history: he does it!  If that comes as a shock to you, then you haven’t seen many movies.  Unfortunately, the film fails to recognize that when the ending is already set in stone, the journey there needs to be entertaining, insightful, and in general worth two hours of our time.  Not only is it one of the dullest films I’ve seen all year, it’s also surprisingly dangerous in its depiction of traditional American values and the all-important ideology of victory.

I won’t deny that Secretariat’s Triple Crown win was astounding, or that it could potentially make for a good film, but Secretariat presents everything with such nauseatingly bubbly Pollyannaism that all dramatic tension is thrown out the window in favor of tried-and-true inspirational fluff.  The script is the stuff of Hallmark movies, and the performances don’t fare much better.  Not even Diane Lane and John Malkovich can overcome trite dialogue and clichéd speeches about believing in oneself and the virtues of winning.  While I wouldn’t expect much more from a Disney sports film, Secretariat takes its positivity to such an extreme that it’s downright boring, with all potential threats easily vanquished under the sheer force of Penny’s willpower.

Read the rest of the review at CaryCitizen.