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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews


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Horse racing enthusiasts the world over know about Secretariat and his glorious accomplishments. In 1993, no other horse in 25 years had won all three races; The Kentucky Derby, The Preakness and his greatest achievement, The Belmont Stakes (in which he won by an unprecedented, incredible, and yet to be matched, 31 lengths) that makeup the prestigious Triple Crown. However, unlike 2003's Oscar nominated Seabiscuit which centered on another true life racehorse, Disney's new release Secretariat, directed by Randall Wallace and written by Mike Rich (“The Rookie) is more about the champion race horse's owner, Penny Chenery Tweedy, than the thoroughbred known for his come from behind victories and considered to be the greatest race horse in history.

In 1969 Penny (Diane Lane in a bouffant blonde wig) was living the comfortable life of a housewife and mother of four children with her lawyer husband Jack (Dylan Walsh who starred in TVs Nip/Tuck) in a sprawling ranch-style home in Denver. When word comes that her mother has died and her dementia stricken father (Scott Glenn)is unable to run his Virginia based Meadow Stables, Penny agrees to stay on, acquires power of attorney and takes over his horse breeding operation. After her father dies, Penny's husband wants her back home and brother Hollis (Dylan Baker) is set on selling the stables and all the horses to pay for the hefty $6 million estate tax. But, Penny, who shares the same love for horses as her father did, refuses to give in to their demands. Despite her lack of horse racing knowledge, the strong willed women is committed to learning the ropes and willing to take high stake risks. Two mares pregnant by Bold Ruler are about to give birth and Penny has faith that one of the foals has what it takes to be a champ. After a coin toss with Ogden Phipps (James Cromwell), the richest man in America, to decide first choice, Penny doesn't win, but as luck has it, gets the horse she wants, a chestnut colt with just the right mix of stamina and speed.

In need of an experienced trainer for her promising colt, with the advice of her father's friend, Bull Hancock, (Fred Dalton Thompson) owner of Claiborne Farms, Penny goes after and recruits the initially reluctant, colorful and eccentric French Canadian Lucien Lauren (John Malcovich, as the comic relief) and then later hires jockey Ron Turcotte (played by real-life jockey Otto Thorwarth) as his rider. Unfortunately, as the story unfolds we never get to see Secretariat being trained by Lauren. Before you know it he is up and running in a race. What goes on behind the scenes and off the track with Penny as his owner takes precedent.

Other integral characters that make up Penny's supportive team of allies include Miss Hamm (Margo Martindale), Penny's father's, and now her, equally loyal secretary/assistant and sweet natured Eddie Sweet (Nelsan Ellis), Secretariat's African-American loving groomer and caretaker.

Diane Lane immerses herself into the character delivering an Oscar calibre performance as the fiercely determined woman who put her family life on the back-burner to devote her time, energy and love into a stallion she had undying faith in. As a female going against a male dominated profession and its sexist attitude, Penny withstood verbal putdowns by blatant chauvinist Pancho Martin (Nestor Serrano) the owner of Secretariat's main rival Sham, but she never lost focus nor the passion for her cause and was a great example of female empowerment.

Thoroughly entertained, I found myself cheering out loud, especially during the exciting, beautifully shot racing sequences by Dean Semler who captures the up close views of the horses as they race neck to neck and from the viewpoint of under their legs and people in the stands.

Secretariat's wins on the track come as no surprise, but few know about the background story surrounding the remarkable horse called Big Red by those closest to him.

For movie goers who liked last year's The Blind Side set in the world of football, Secretariat follows the inspirational journey of yet another gutsy woman and the athlete she led to victory against all odds. It is an uplifting, heartwarming story fit for the entire family and one that people of all ages will enjoy, although I could have done without the religious references aimed at mainstream Christian audiences.

Whether it takes home any awards come Oscar time is yet to be seen. In any case, one thing is for sure, Disney has delivered a winner in more ways than one.

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