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'Secretariat' Movie Review

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating
User Rating 5 Star Rating (1 Review)


Diane Lane in Secretariat

Diane Lane as Penny Chenery in 'Secretariat.'

© Walt Disney Pictures
Everyone even slightly familiar with horse racing knows the name of the horse who's considered the greatest to ever circle the track. Secretariat left behind an incredible legacy with his string of record-setting wins that may never be broken. And in Walt Disney Pictures' Secretariat, the legendary thoroughbred races once more in stunningly recreated footage of the Triple Crown winner's breathtaking races.
As director Randall Wallace admits, Secretariat is such a feel-good underdog story that some moviegoers may believe it's got a made-up Hollywood ending, courtesy of Disney (a studio known for feel-good animal films). But writer Mike Rich and director Wallace didn't need to exaggerate on the horse's achievements to make Secretariat into a film that will have audiences cheering. And I'm serious about the cheering. The preview audience I saw Secretariat with clapped during and after every race, and the security guard on hand to make sure no one was videotaping the preview actually whistled after one of Secretariat's victories. He whistled. When's the last time you heard someone do that at a PG-rated film and not out of derision?

Secretariat is the star of the film, however Rich and Wallace didn't simply choose to tell his story. Instead, Secretariat emphasizes the relationship between housewife Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) and the thoroughbred she bet the farm on - literally. Penny stepped up to take over her ailing father's thoroughbred racing operation and horse breeding business in Virginia, something unheard of for a woman to do back in the early 1970s. Horse racing was a man's sport, but that didn't deter Penny. She battled sexism, fought to keep her horse when the funds were dwindling, and kept the faith when very few people believed in her. And in Diane Lane's capable hands, this strong, determined woman emerges as just as much of a champion as her record-breaking horse.

The Story

Happily married, mother of three Denver housewife Penny Chenery Tweedy has her life turned upside when she's needed back at her family's Meadow Stables in Virginia to take over the operations from her ailing father (played by Scott Glenn). One of her first orders of business is to attend a coin toss to see which of two colts will belong to Meadow Stables. In a stroke of luck, she loses the coin toss and gets the colt she actually wanted.

Nicknamed Big Red, this colt springs to his feet faster than groom Eddie Sweat (Nelsan Ellis) and trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich) have ever seen a newborn do before, foreshadowing great things to come from the leggy colt. Penny believes she's got something special on her hands and does everything in her power to make sure the horse is allowed to fulfill his destiny. A woman no one had heard of took a horse no one thought could win and together they rode into the history books, captivating a nation while shattering records.

The Bottom Line

The real Secretariat had a heart twice as big as a normal horse's, and Secretariat the film has a lot more heart and soul to it than most 'feel-good' family films. Yes, there are times when it gets slightly sappy, but overall the film is genuinely moving. It's one of the few uplifting films put out this year, and every once in a while we need something that warms our hearts and lets us walk out of the theater feeling happy, don't we?

Secretariat movie review

A scene from 'Secretariat.'

© Walt Disney Pictures
Director Wallace says all of his films "have said that courage matters and love prevails. This one says love wins." And that message along with terrific acting all around, some spectacular race footage, and a captivating story nearly too good to be true combine to make Secretariat a real crowd-pleasing film.


Secretariat was directed by Randall Wallace and is rated PG for brief mild language.

Theatrical Release: October 8, 2010

This review is based on a screening provided by the studio. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
User Reviews

Reviews for this section have been closed.

 5 out of 5
Secretariat, Member Phyllis.Littau

As I watched this magnificent horse in action once again, it was as though I was back in my living room so many years ago, cheering him on, as I watched him leave the rest of the field way, way behind him. A wonderful family film, that I cannot wait to buy for each of my children and their families. I see some of the reviews criticize the movie. It is good, clean family entertainment and a true story. I can find no fault with it...the dirtiest thing about it was the mud on the jockey's face!

3 out of 3 people found this helpful.

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