Directed by: Randall Wallace
Written by: Mike Rich (screenplay), William Nack (book)
Starring: Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Dylan Walsh, and Margo Martindale
Apparently Seabiscuit and The Blind Side weren’t enough. According to Disney, we needed at least one more historically sugar-coated “impossible true story.” Something savory for the whole family, with perfectly timed and safe one-liners and plot points that the company has had on repeat since it started doing live action movies.
Of course, when this company has a lack of creativity and innovation, they simply write a check. This gives them access to the best filmmaking tools at their disposal to make this pile of garbage. The race footage in Secretariat is amazingly well-done and even a little bit exhilarating. It’s too bad once the horses stop, the movie does too.
Like (maybe because of) The Blind Side, this film follows the woman behind the athlete, Penny Chenery (Diane Lane). Penny is an obedient housewife who over the course of the film learns to be her own woman while still submitting to her husband and her familial duties. The movie does take place in the ’60s and ’70s when the youth started the counterculture, but Penny’s revolution is as safe and boring as they come. This isn’t just the screenplay’s fault, though. Diane Lane brings absolutely nothing to this role, instead letting the Mad Men wardrobe and glossy set pieces do the acting for her. If she scores an Oscar nomination for this, the fear that Bullock in The Blind Side wasn’t a one-time gig will overcome film lovers everywhere.
This is true of almost every actor in Secretariat. We may be treated to visually stunning race sequences, but none of the big budget was spent getting anyone good for the camera. John Malkovich is officially past his prime after selling out to this and Red in the same year. He likely received a nice paycheck from this, but doesn’t do anything besides wear funny hats and look angry on command.
Director Randall Wallace knows how a historical film like this should look. He captures the time period and arranges all of the actors in the frame like they are just another finely polished table or chair. To say they’re wooden wouldn’t be too far off at all.
Those looking to find a family-friendly movie always turn to the Disney brand for help. But something with such prehistoric moral values either shows that Disney or its audience is clinging to the past. Luckily, Secretariat is too dull in between races for the kids to learn anything from it.