Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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Secretariat

Film #323

THE PLOT

Penny Chenery Tweedy and colleagues guide her long-shot but precocious stallion to set, in 1973, the unbeaten record for winning the Triple Crown.

Year 1, Day 327

BEFORE: Continuing with the biographical theme, Secretariat races into the next slot (see what I did there). As with yesterday’s subject, I’m not all that familiar with horse racing in general, or the story of Secretariat in particular, so I’m interested yet again in learning as well as being entertained.

AFTER: Titles can be very powerful and very influential towards expectations. Whether films, literature, or anything else, a title is generally your first association with something. Secretariat, while being the title of the film is also the name of the horse the movie is about. Except that much of the movie focuses on the Tweedy family; not the horse and it’s journey to win the Triple Crown. As we saw yesterday with My Week with Marilyn, the title and focus of the film don’t have to be synonymous, but for Secretariat the disparity is distracting.

Secretariat does deliver in some key areas. Most obvious is the film’s attention to detail in both period-accuracy and horse racing. Everything from the costumes to the props, even the attitudes and current events make you feel as though you are in the 1970s. Not a detail is out of place and this helps set the stage for believability. It is based off a true story so I don’t mean believability literally, but more of a can you accept this recreation as a correct one, and the answer to that is yes. Moreover is the breadth of knowledge with regards to horse racing. I said before that I’m not familiar with the field at all (I know of the Triple Crown and that the three races are the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and Belmont Stakes) but beyond that, nothing. So when the film opens up and there is talk of sires, dams, stallions, mares, folds, and plenty of other terminology, I felt completely lost. I knew they were references to horses, but it was like a foreign language to me (much like how I feel reading Game of Thrones when there’s talk of ship types, horse breeds, and medieval armor pieces). While I would have appreciated a more beginners approach to the horse field, the level they took fit the film and I won’t knock it for that.

What I will knock the film for is its relentless focus on trivial matters. Secretariat is the focus of the film. It’s not a film about the Chenery or Tweedy families. While the families play a central role in Secretariat’s life, and are necessary to tell the story of Secretariat’s growth and journey, they are meant to serve the film, not be served. So when there are digressions to talk about the two Tweedy daughters’ involvement in protests and activism along with a family conflict between Penny (Diane Lane) and her brother Hollis (Dylan Baker) about the estate, it’s nothing but distracting. These two examples do not serve the purpose of the film - Secretariat’s journey - but instead cover another story all together, one of familial life. Both may be interesting stories, but to have both compete in one film diverts attention unnecessarily.

When you see Secretariat, especially when he runs in the Triple Crown races at the end, what you see is nothing short of a miracle. I found myself in complete awe of the horse’s accomplishments and by showing the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont races differently, tension was built up and I found myself excited even though the outcome was known. But all this excitement and energy of the film Secretariat is lost amongst a competing story of pointless information of the families and people behind the horse’s success. Racing and history fans should definitely give this film a watch, but other filmgoers looking for a great film should look elsewhere.

RATING: 3 out of 5