Son of ‘Seabiscuit:’ ‘Secretariat’ is old-fashioned, formulaic
Contrary to rumors, one of America’s great race horses did not get his name when an ungrammatical executive looked around the office and said, “Where’s my secretary at?” That is, however, how the title was chosen for the Disney movie about that horse. It was only coincidental that the horse, and hence the movie, were named Secretariat.
Secretariat takes place between 1969 and 1973. Had it been made at that time, it would still have seemed old-fashioned. But formulas are repeated because they work. Take a good story, apply the formula, and with the right skills in every department you can make a good movie. Director Randall Wallace brings most of those skills but is too obvious in his reliance on the formula. Secretariat is the son of Seabiscuit — not the horse, but the film: Well-bred, but not in the same league. Again it’s less about the horse than the people around him.
Diane Lane stars as Penny Chenery Tweedy, who inherits guardianship of the horse she calls Big Red, but will race as Secretariat. Penny games Ogden Phipps (James Cromwell), “the richest man in America,” into letting her keep Big Red: She’s done her homework and predicts his genealogy will lead to a winning mix of speed and stamina.