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Thursday, Oct. 7, 2010 06:11 am

Secretariat rides to winner’s circle

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I’m a sucker for sports movies. While Randall Wallace’s Secretariat is far from the best in the genre, it hits enough emotional buttons along the way to make for a crowd-pleasing entertainment. The fact that the horse’s success is so well known and that the film’s protagonist is not human prevents the viewer from becoming fully invested. Yet the back-story of the last Triple Crown winner is compelling enough to keep us engaged.

Taking over her father’s horse farm when he becomes too ill to run it, Penney Chenery (Diane Lane) finds herself returning to her roots, albeit with an uncertain future. The farm is losing money and has failed to produce a winning racehorse in quite some time. However, a fortuitous flip of a coin puts her in possession of a colt that would change her luck. Navigating the male-dominated world of horseracing, Chenery enlists the aid of Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich) an eccentric trainer with a history of also-rans on his resume.

Wallace does a fine job rendering Secretariat’s meteoric rise, recreating his key victories as well as relying on archival footage. These sequences are undeniably thrilling, particularly when he puts us in the race, matching the horse’s magnificent gait with his roving camera. Chenery’s trials are engaging as well, as she contends with familial troubles, financial worries and male chauvinism.

Unfortunately, Lane is lacking here, giving a rare uneven performance replete with awkward line readings and telegraphed reactions. Malkovich picks up the slack with a showy performance that’s actually quite restrained when you think how hammy he could have been. But in the end, Wallace brings this story home, capturing the sense of wonder that captivated a nation when one horse reminded us what it meant to run for glory.  

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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