Film & TV

"Secretariat" Proves Again That Horses Make Terrible Title Characters

Horses make lousy protagonists, what with their inability to speak, emote, or do much of anything other than run or stand around. No surprise, then, that Secretariat employs its subject as merely a vehicle for a human victory-over-adversity story, which, in this based-on-real-events case, involves owner Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) triumphing against the chauvinistic "old boys" — and, in the process, setting a proto-feminist example for her hippie daughter — by leading Secretariat to Triple Crown glory. Sexism and classism are the twin hurdles leaped by feisty Penny and her plaid-hat-wearing trainer, Lucien Laurin (a hammy John Malkovich). Along the way, director Randall Wallace goes overboard with mawkish deification: The stallion makes his intro in slow motion set to narration about the biblical tale of Job, is later visualized emerging from roiling storm clouds like a divine steed, and is exalted by Malkovich with the trailer-ready proclamation, "He's not a horse. He's Secretariat!" As befitting a Disney period-piece sports drama, cutaways to sunset horizons are plentiful, and social issues of the day are glibly addressed via hoary platitudes. At least the formulaic race footage itself is vigorous; the schmaltzy mythmaking script, on the other hand, deserves a one-way trip to the glue factory.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Nick Schager is a regular film contributor at Voice Media Group and its film partner, the Village Voice. VMG publications include LA Weekly, Denver Westword, Phoenix New Times, Miami New Times, Broward-Palm Beach New Times, Houston Press and Dallas Observer.