Starring: Diane Lane, John Malkovich, James Cromwell, Scott Glenn, Otto Thorwarth, Margo Martindale, Nelsan Ellis
Directed by: Randall Wallace
Written by: William Nack (Book), Mike Rich (Screenplay), Randall Wallace (Screenplay)
Runtime: 123 Minutes
Release Date: 1/26/2011
Secretariat is the theatrical adaptation of a true story centering around Penny Chenery, a housewife and the daughter of an ailing Virginia horse breeder and trainer. When Penny's mother passes away unexpectedly she and her family (including three children and her husband) travel immediately to the family farm in Virgina to attend the funeral. When Penny arrives she finds her father's secretary Ms. Ham (Martindale) waiting for her. Ms. Ham explains that Penny's father is not in good health and that he has been asking for her mother despite her death. Penny goes to the back of the house to see her father and finds him sitting in a chair, staring into space with gaunt cheeks. In a lucid moment he gives Penny her mother's pin, a golden horse figurine, a symbolic passing of the torch to his daughter. When Penny learns of estate and business issues that must be resolved she decides to stay in Virginia while her family returns to Colorado. Penny soon learns from Ms. Ham that her mother put a stop to a disadvantageous horse sale prior to her death, a sale that Penny learns was orchestrated by the current trainer.
Penny confronts the trainer and fires him, threatening legal action if he attempts to press her for breach of contract. Penny also soon learns that two mares are pregnant in the stable, both by Bold Ruler, a champion stallion with a very prestigious bloodline known for speed. While Penny's father could not afford to have Bold Ruler sire any foals under normal circumstances, he had entered into an agreement with Ogden Phipps (Cromwell), one of the richest men in the country. Phipps agreed to allow Bold Ruler to sire two foals with the best mares in Chenery's stable, under the condition that a coin toss prior to giving birth would allow the winner to choose his foal. With no trainer on staff and bills to pay, Penny goes to a friend of her fathers named Bull Hancock. Bull recommends to Penny that she try to hire a French-Canadian trainer by the name of Lucien Laurin (Malkovich) who is "trying to retire". When she informs Lucien that she would like to hire him, he refuses, arguing that working for her would be a fruitless endeavor.
A short time later, Penny attends the coin toss, hoping that she can get the foal of a mare called Hasty Matilda, an older mare at seventeen but with a good bloodline for racing stamina. When the coin is tossed Phipps wins, and chooses the foal of Somethingroyal, a younger mare that is known for speed. Penny is elated, and leaves the toss in high spirits. When she gets back to the farm Lucien Laurin is waiting for her, telling her to call him when the mare is about to give birth.
Some months later as Penny flies back and forth juggling the life of a housewife and mother with that of a businesswoman operating a stable, she receives a call that the mare is going to give birth shortly. Penny takes her youngest son with her to Virginia immediately, where they witness the foal's birth. The foal stands up within seconds of being born, stunning both Laurin and the groom Eddie Sweat (Ellis). Some time later when the horse is two years old, Penny takes him to her father and tells him that she has named him Big Red. Her father looks at Penny, and tells her to "Let him run his race".
Penny and Lucien begin to train the horse in preparation for his first race as a two year old. In order to race competitively the horse must have a unique name - Ms. Ham finally submits Secretariat after a month long search for a name. The name is accepted just in time for the race. Secretariat and his inexperienced jockey lose the first race badly, upsetting Penny and angering Lucien. Lucien tells Penny that she should find a more experienced jockey for Secretariat. Penny informs Lucien that if she hires a jockey, he had better be fearless like the horse. Lucien sends Penny to meet veteran jockey Ronnie Turcotte (Thorwarth), who is still recovering from an accident in which his last horse ran so hard that its heart burst. Ronnie explains to Penny why he is not sorry about how he raced the horse, pointing out that neither he nor the horse had any fear going into the race. Ronnie tells Penny that the horse literally ran its heart out, and that he takes the same risk every time he rides. Penny decides to hire Ronnie on the spot and begins to train Secretariat for his next set of races.
Secretariat is a remarkably talented horse, and under the guidance of Lucien and Ronnie wins the majority of his races, ultimately winning the prize for Horse of the Year. Just as Penny and her team are celebrating the prize, Ms. Ham informs Penny that her father has had a stroke. Penny rushes to the hospital and sits with her father as he passes away. With the death of Penny's father, she must now pay estate taxes in the amount of $6,000,000 if she is to keep the stable. In an unprecedented move, Penny decides to syndicate the breeding rights for secretariat at 32 shares priced at 190,000 dollars each - a number that no investor is willing to stomach. In an act of desperation, Penny reaches out to Ogden Phipps, refusing his offer to buy Secretariat for eight million, and against all odds convincing him to purchase the first share. After Phipps' investment, Penny is able to convince others as well, allowing her to keep the stables.
Following the syndication of his breeding rights, Secretariat is obligated to win the "Triple Crown" - consisting of three major horse races starting with the Kentucky Derby, then the Preakness, and finally the Belmont Stakes. The triple crown is considered the most difficult achievement in horse racing - a feat last accomplished 25 years prior to Secretariat's 1973 racing season. The film then chronicles the historic 1973 racing season in which Secretariat would go down in horse racing and sports history. Penny Chenery's real life fairy tale is a true story and wonderfully (if not entirely faithfully) told in this Disney adaptation.
Secretariat is rated PG for brief use of mild language. This is a family appropriate film that is safe for all ages.
Disney brings Secretariat to Blu-Ray with a 19 Mbps average encode featuring a very natural film-like quality. Unfortunately, this is not a perfect transfer and suffers from some technical flaws that detract from the overall presentation. Colors and flesh tones throughout the film are natural and lifelike with even saturation and great realism. Blacks however, do not live up to this standard. In several scenes throughout the film blacks are not as infinite as one would expect, resulting in reduced depth of field. There are some minor instances of black crush but overall nothing so pervasive as to detract substantially from the score.
The transfer itself is of good quality with consistent but minimal level of film grain, but appears to have been touched up with some form of digital softening in certain scenes. While this could well be for effect, I agree with other reviewers suspicions that this is indeed an intentional effect - perhaps to obscure makeup or age lines. Despite these minor complaints, this is a great looking film. Some will notice that there are some "shaky cam" moments in the film where a hand camera has been fitted to a horse for an increased sense of realism. While the quality of these shots does not measure up to the remainder of the film, they do add great effect. This is an understandable directorial decision as having a half-million dollar Panavision camera dangling from a galloping horse is probably neither smart, nor sanctioned by the studio. Viewers will enjoy the rich colors and largely effects free presentation of Secretariat and I found it highly enjoyable.
The DTS-HD Master Audio mix accompanying Secretariat on Blu-Ray is a dynamic and enjoyable surround experience that really grabs your attention and immerses you in the film. Horse races make excellent use of the surround channels to give the viewer a sense of horses and crowd noise surrounding the jockey. Bass is substantial and perhaps a tad exaggerated as hooves thunder on the track, but the result is an adrenaline inducing listening experience that I found thoroughly enjoyable. The dialogue presentation in Secretariat is very good with excellent resolution and clarity. While there were a few instances where the spatial arrangement of voices was too forward I would say that overall this is an excellent mix with only minor detractions from an otherwise incredibly immersive home theater experience.
Secretariat comes to Blu-Ray with a good list of extras, but doesn't live up to the recent trend other studios have exhibited.
- Director's Audio Commentary: An excellent commentary from director Randall Wallace as he discusses the making and writing of the movie and struggles faced during the process while also giving additional details on real events and how the differ from those portrayed in the film.
- Secretariat Multi-Angle Simulation (HD, 19 minutes): Watch real race day footage from the 1973 Preakness of a virtual simulation with commentary from several people.
- Heart of a Champion (HD, 15 minutes): A brief featurette introducing and talking about Secretariat from the perspective of the cast and crew of the film.
- A Director's Inspiration (HD, 21 minutes): A great conversation between Wallace and Penny Chenery discussing a slew of topics, this is a must see!
- Choreographing the Races (HD, 6 minutes): How Wallace and his consultant horse wrangler choreographed the races.
- Deleted Scenes with Optional Director's Commentary (HD, 10 minutes): Seven scenes and an alternate opening sequence.
- Music Video (HD, 4 minutes): AJ Michalka sings "It's Who You Are."
- Trailer Navigation (HD): A nice change from the usual trailer presentation, makes navigation easier.
Secretariat is a rousing and enjoyable film with solid performances from Diane Lane and John Malkovich anchoring a well written screenplay and script. The film is definitely heartfelt and moving, though it does try too hard at times to intentionally tug at the emotions of the viewer. In typical Disney fashion the content is family oriented and shies away from blatant conflict or difficulty on the part of the protagonists while still managing to create a conflict to resolve. While the film is not entirely true to events as they occurred, most viewers will find that they know a lot more about horse racing and breeding after watching the film. Secretariat is a horse and athlete that deserved to be reintroduced to this generation and the film does an admirable job of expounding upon just how incredible Secretariat was. While the AV presentation was not reference and there weren't quite as many special features as I would like, Director Randal Wallace has created a film with a consistent and uplifting tone that is truly entertaining for the entire family. While Secretariat and Penny Chenery face their share of challenges, this is ultimately a feel good film.