Certainly proceeding with the intent to be an uplifting crowd pleaser, “Secretariat” is a film that sets out to capture the spirit of an event and the people involved. While a liberty or two may have been taken with the history of the picture, the film otherwise maintains a pleasing period atmosphere and feels realistic to the era. In other words, this is a family film about a beloved horse, its spirited owner and trainer, and its triumphant true story of winning the Triple Crown.
After losing her mother, Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) and her brother Hollis (Dylan Baker) must decide what to do with Meadow Stables and their father (Scott Glenn), whose health is frail. In a bold move fueled by her love of the stables and its horses, Penny decides to take over Meadow Stables to bring it back to its former glory. As she quickly finds out, taking over the stables does not come easily or without sacrifice. The events occur in the early seventies and Penny’s presence and role in the male dominated industry was basically unheard of. Despite her ambition and drive to succeed, in her home life she found little respect for what she was setting out to achieve. Her husband, Jack Tweedy (Dylan Walsh) preferred she’d listen to her brother and sell the land and move her father.
As Penny hopes to retain the stables of her youth, she boldly walks right into a men’s only club, speaks her mind, and fires the trainer. She sets off to hire no nonsense horse trainer, Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich) who dresses boldly, wants to retire, and has just enough agitation to get things done. As her family sits waiting for her to sell, Penny pushes through. One of the great turning points being a coin toss between her and millionaire Ogden Phipps (James Cromwell) to see who got which pregnant mare. Penny’s reasoning for wanting the mare she does, further proves her ability to not only oversee the horse stables, but to lead it successfully and victoriously. The mare gives birth to the colt, Big Red, who is later named Secretariat.
From here forward, the film continues to move at a decent pace, showing Secretariat’s many triumphs, trophies and even a few setbacks. As Secretariat grows and wins, testing his distance and speed, Penny must find creative ways to make large amounts of money in order to keep from having to sell Secretariat (who would have gone for 7 million, even without being tested on long distances). But Penny believed in his abilities, and rightfully so as Secretariat went on to win the Triple Crown for the first time in 25 years.
“Secretariat” isn’t a perfect film, but it’s a charming story with a lot of heart. While there are some sad moments throughout, the result is a happy one. Malkovich is perfect as the trainer and he and Lane work wonderfully off one another. Rounding out the heart of the human element in the film are groomer, Eddie Sweat (Nelsan Ellis), jockey Ronnie Turcotte (Otto Thorwarth), and Miss Ham (Margo Martindale). It’s Penny’s intelligence and “go with your gut” attitude that propels the film and really draws the audience in. Lane gives a memorable performance and captures the spirit of a woman fighting to do what she believes is best. The landscape and superb cinematography from ace Dean Semler offer some truly beautiful visuals, as well.
VIDEO: "Secretariat" is presented by Buena Vista Home Entertainment in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC) and the results are, while not reference quality, quite pleasing. Sharpness and detail are a delight, as the picture looked smooth, bright and clean, showing off period details with precision and clarity. A couple of minor traces of pixelation were spotted in a couple of scenes, but the picture was otherwise pristine, with no specks, marks or other faults. Colors looked warm and rich, with excellent saturation and no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: The film's DTS-HD 5.1 presentation isn't
EXTRAS: On the Blu-ray:
“Choreographing The Races” - a look at how the races in the film were choreographed, and the technology used in order to recreate the real races. An interesting look that fans of the film and horseracing may enjoy.
“A Director’s Inspiration: A Conversation With the Real Penny Chenery” Penny Chenery shares stories with Randall Wallace in an interesting interview session between the two.
“Audio Commentary with Director Randall Wallace” - Randall Wallace does a fantastic job, delivering an engaging track that discusses the story, working with the actors, technical challenges, the period setting and more. Aside from a couple of moments of silence here-and-there, this is an insightful and enjoyable track.
“Secretariat Multi-Angle Simulation” Secretariat’s Preakness race is relived from different perspectives.
Also included are 4 additional deleted scenes.
On the DVD
“Heart of a Champion” - a feature that takes a closer look at Penny and Secretariat from not only the actors and director’s point of view, but also from interviews with the real Penny Chenery. Interviews with others who worked with and rode Secretariat offer their memories of the great horse. Archive footage and footage from the film are included throughout. Worth a look.
“Deleted Scenes” The deleted scenes include a director introduction as well as an optional audio commentary by Director Randall Wallace.
“Music Video - AJ Michalka ‘It’s Who You Are’”
Also included on the DVD are “Discovery Blu-ray 3D with Timon & Pumbaa” and “Dylan & Cole Sprouse: Blu-ray is Suite!”
Final Thoughts: “Secretariat” isn’t a perfect film, but it’s a charming story with a lot of heart and solid performances. The Blu-Ray presentation boasts excellent audio/video quality, as well as a fine amount of supplemental features. Recommended.
The Film B