Brad, sweetie to Gail’s daughter Kate, doesn’t usually like movies. A couple of weeks ago at Golden Gate Fields, he said he would be interested in seeing Secretariat when it came out, because of the horse race theme.  So last night we went over to Marin, had dinner at Il Fornaio and headed off to the theater.

Should have stayed at dinner.

Secretariat is a saccharine feel-good story about a great horse.  It’s Rocky on four feet, without the suspense or exhilaration.

Beautifully filmed, with great horse racing sequences, the movie was turgid, didactic, pedantic, sanctimonious and un-exciting.  Given that you know from the start that the horse is going to win the race (they don’t make movies about losers), the director (Randall Wallace)  has an uphill climb to maintain any possible suspense, and he doesn’t manage it.

Diane Lane stars as Penny Tweedy, a Denver housewife who inherits the family horse farm, and saves the day by choosing an unlikely colt to nurture and race.  She gives a fine performance, but how am I supposed to take seriously when she stares in the horse’s eyes and they “agree” that he will win the next day?  John Malkovich plays the trainer, in an over-the-top comedy turn which of course becomes heartfelt and sappy.  His clothing starts out loud and silly and ends up elegant, to show us how he has grown.  Nothing subtle here.

Fred Thompson, having lost his bid to be President 2 years ago, is back to making movies.  He is better as an actor than as a politician, so that’s a plus.

Mrs. Tweedy, of course, has a husband who is disenchanted with her spending all of her time and money across the country horse breeding instead of staying home with her 4 children (the eldest of whom bears a scary resemblance to Marcia Brady).  Naturally, he comes around and all is well.

There were some odd logical inconsistencies, as well.  One of the characters, portrayed nicely by James Cromwell, is supposedly the richest man in the world–yet he watches the races from the stands, just like all the other owners and two caricature newsmen who don’t, apparently, have press box access.   Well, it gets them all in one shot, at least.

50 years ago I watched the Mickey Mouse Club, which had a series within it called Spin and Marty.  Little morality plays for children, but they were exciting and interesting.  Apparently, in the ensuing half century Disney remembers the moralizing but forgets to be interesting.

The sad part is that it is really a great story, and when Secretariat wins the Triple Crown at Belmont Park, he runs the greatest race in history.

Here’s the original race.  It’s more exciting than the movie, only takes a couple of minutes and you’ll save $10.



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