TMG Scale 8.5
Starring Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Fred Thompson, Scott Glenn, James Cromwell and Big Red aka Secretariat
Gallop, do not walk to your local cinema to see this film. It won’t disappoint you just because you know the ending. You knew the ending to Titanic (1997) and that was certainly no spoiler. The ending to Apollo 13 (1995) was pretty well documented. It’s more when a movie that seems to have no ending, like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2009), that is the bigger problem.
This is as much a film about Triple Crown winner Secretariat in 1973 as it is about his owner, Penny (Chenery) Tweedy. Tweedy inherited a flailing horse race operation from her parents. Everyone from her husband to her brother pushed her to sell out and cash in early. Most people would have. Actually, the smart and economical move would have been to throw in the towel, wind up her parents affairs at the horse farm in Virginia, and fly back to Denver with her husband and four children. It was the sensible move unless, like TGM, you really love and appreciate horses. When you own or simply have the pleasure to ride a truly great horse, the rest of the world seems trivial.
I have ridden my share of great horses and watched from the rails at Keeneland in Kentucky. It is a thrill you either understand or you don’t. Horses are not terribly bright (relative to a labrador anyway) and you cannot really cuddle one on your lap—at least not without breaking lots of living room furniture. But horses have a magical and mystical quality about them and they definitely have heart. This film reveals it all in great cinematography, editing and sound. You will cheer with excitement just like you were there when it all happened.
Penny Tweedy and horse trainer Lucien Laurin (played by Malkovich) made this film work. Perhaps every line uttered by Tweedy was predictable and whimsical, but the writers delivered plenty of humor and wit via Malkovich. Secretariat never spoke a word, though we suspect there was plenty of trash talking going on at the gates. I was the only one in the theatre who laughed when Tweedy said she was hanging around just to “stabilize” things after her mother’s death. Get it? “stable-ize” things? Perhaps only the Mr. Ed’s of the world and I picked up on that one.
There were some great other characters along the way. Fred Thompson plays an old chum of her father (played by Scott Glenn). TMG only wishes all those who suffer dementia or Alzheimer’s have it as sweet to the end as Mr. Chenery does. A more than delightful family secretary named Miss Ham is played Margo Martindale and is actually the name sake for the horse. (Haven’t you always wondered?) The characters are fully developed and revealed, just like Secretariat. The film had only one cheeseball scene where all the characters danced (or tried to) around Secretariat in some sort of Big Chill (1983) inspired moment. I had not viewed a scene that cornball since watching Lou Gossett, Jr. as Chappy Sinclair dance to his war plans in Iron Eagle (1986). It is forgiveable though in this film. Lou Gossett is another matter.
Five horses reportedly played Secretariat. There were two main Secretariats. They were Trolley Boy, who raced until an injury ended his career as a 2-year-old, and Longshot Max. Trolley Boy won a 2008 Secretariat Look-A-Like contest and Longshot Max was discovered through an online casting call. No word if either had to do time on the casting couch.
Horse terminology is helpful, but not required to see this film. The following primer will help some, but will not not qualify you for an advanced degree in animal husbandry. A “foal” is a baby horse. Birthing is referred to as “dropping a foal.” A colt is a non castrated male less than four years old. A “filly” is a female horse under four years old. Such female becomes a “mare” after four years of age. A “gelding” is a castrated male horse. He is a “stallion” if he reaches four years of age without getting the big snip. The latter was certainly not going to be in Secretariat’s future after winning the Triple Crown. By the way, a “farrier” is a blacksmith who does horse shoeing. Farriers are not referenced even once in the film, but TMG just thought you might like to know.
Secretariat. It’s a horse film, but a very good one.