SBD/Issue 20/Sports Media

Filmmakers Take Some Liberties In Making "Secretariat" Film


Walt Disney Pictures' newest film, "Secretariat," debuts nationwide today starring Diane Lane and John Malkovich, and the filmmakers "had to take some liberties in order to make this movie," according to Andrew Beyer of the WASHINGTON POST. Secretariat's real-life story "didn't have a triumph-of-the-underdog theme that is a staple of sports movies," nor were the "people surrounding him especially colorful or lovable." Disney "mined William Nack's meticulously reported biography of Secretariat to find the female-empowerment theme that could make this film a hit." But while there are "plenty of sentimental embellishments," the story is true, and Lane "makes it a compelling one." Moreover, "Secretariat" depicts the racing world "more credibly than most movies and shows the racing action vividly." Beyer: "Purists should forgive the inaccuracies and relish the fact that Secretariat's story has finally come to the screen" (, 10/7). USA TODAY's Maria Puente noted Disney and Secretariat Owner Penny Chenery, who is depicted by Lane in the film, have "high hopes for the movie." Chenery: "The movie brings back good memories, but will it have legs? This is what I'm really hoping for, that it will get people out of themselves" (USA TODAY, 10/7).

I WANT THE TRUTH! In L.A., Kenneth Turan writes "Secretariat" is "hardly the place to look for a thoroughly factual account of the events in William Nack's book of the same name." The film's credits note "Secretariat" is "suggested by" Nack's book, not the customary "based on" (L.A. TIMES, 10/8). The THOROUGHBRED TIMES' Frank Angst wrote while the movie "takes plenty of liberties with the facts, it seems to have little interest in adding to Secretariat's legend." As a character, the horse is "portrayed more as an underdog than a once-in-a-lifetime freak of nature" (, 10/4). In L.A., Kevin Modesti writes on one hand, "Secretariat" is a "sweet celebration of the horse, his owner and his time." On the other hand, "in a weird way it ends up diminishing Secretariat." The film "misleads newcomers to the topic by taking the story of the utter domination of the 1973 Triple Crown by a freakish talent and shrink-wrapping it into an underdog package" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 10/8).

GETTING THE DISNEY EFFECT: In Buffalo, Jeff Simon wrote under the header, "Disney's Corny Take On America's Greatest Racehorse." The film is "very much like the kind of live action movies Disney was making in the '70s -- egregiously nonthreatening, cornball in sentimentality, full of uplift and, in this case, a family whose worst moments never descend to real vulgar acrimony." But it "doesn't really have to be all that good to be a winner for family audiences in moviehouses" (BUFFALO NEWS, 10/7). In N.Y., Manohla Dargis writes "Secretariat" is "squeaky clean and as square as a military flattop." The movie "sticks to the Disney gospel that life means following your dreams" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/8). ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY's Owen Gleiberman wrote "Secretariat" is a "sketchy and rather innocuously upbeat movie." Director Randall Wallace "often seems to be aiming for the same Christian demographic that helped make a hit out of 'The Blind Side.'" This film is "so insistently square it undercuts the very drama it's out to capture" (, 10/6). In Tulsa, Michael Smith writes "Secretariat" is a "corny Disney family film/feminist drama that manipulates history and emotions so often that it made me groan" (TULSA WORLD, 10/8). USA TODAY's Claudia Puig writes under the header, "Secretariat's Legend Leaves Corny Script In Dust." The film's sentimentality "undermines the impact of this underdog saga" (USA TODAY, 10/8). In Orlando, Roger Moore: "A well-acted tale of an underdog's triumph that sorely lacks an underdog, it teeters between pleasantry generic film biography and rank manipulation" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 10/8).

"Secretariat" Lauded For Its Realistic Racing
Scenes, Including Footage From Churchill Downs

UNDER REVIEW: In Boston, Wesley Morris writes under the header, "Wire-To-Wire Winner." The film is "happy proof of what care, polish, and some modest humor can do for a tired-seeming entertainment" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/8). In N.Y., Lou Lumenick writes Secretariat's 31-length win at the '73 Belmont Stakes provides the film with a "can't-miss climax." The moment is "such a high that you can overlook the corny dialogue in the script by Mike Rich and the sometimes laughable sense of period achieved" by Wallace (N.Y. POST, 10/8). In Chicago, Michael Phillips wrote the film "isn't bad, but it's precisely what you'd expect" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 10/7). On Long Island, Rafer Guzman writes under the header, "No Winner's Circle For 'Secretariat'" (NEWSDAY, 10/8). In Illinois, Dann Gire: "If this movie were a horse, it would be shot. You know, for being lame" (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 10/8).

A DAY AT THE RACES: In Seattle, Moira Macdonald writes Wallace has "staged the races wonderfully, using a jittery horse-cam to give us a jockey's-eye-view and letting those thundering hoofs make their own music" (SEATTLE TIMES, 10/8). In Louisville, Tamara Ikenberg writes the "intensity of the race sequences, which have been reenacted as accurately as possible, is breathtaking." The look of the film "is also authentic." The Kentucky Derby scenes were filmed at Churchill Downs, while "other sequences were filmed at Keeneland Race Course" (Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL, 10/8). In K.C., Robert Butler writes the film benefits from the "inherent thrill of the races themselves" (K.C. STAR, 10/8).

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