Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday at the Movies: Disney's "Secretariat"

I had to deal with some crazy medical billing stuff this week that took over my life for a little while. My heart goes out to you other recent college grads who are dealing with the same crap. Anyway,sorry for the delay and review under the cut More...
Some people aren't Disney fans, but I've always loved Disney movies. Not HSM or recent stuff, but classic Disney. I grew up when the Lion King went on Broadway and Beauty and the Beast was nominated for an Oscar, so I suppose I'm a bit biased toward Disney films. But I come from a Louisville,KY family, so the Triple Crown is also a big deal to me. I won't sit through a football game, but it's serious sportswatching time when those magnificent 3 year olds start down the track. Horseracing is also a very glamourous sport: You wear a fancy dress and hat to the races, not a jersey or warpaint. It's one of the oldest sports in the world, reminiscent of medieval pageantry (which is why I thought this might be a good period film to review for the blog).
But how does this sports film stand up in terms of cast, art style, etc.? Here's my breakdown:

Historical Accuracy: I'm happy to say that--despite some embellishments (no doubt to create tension)--the film is mostly true to history. Penny Chenery's father had already won the coin toss and Secretariat wasn't an underdog at all. Although, I think the point was that Penny was an underdog--a woman in a field dominated by men, who had double expectations on her (raise a winning horse, take care of your family). Some reviewers have complained the coverage of Vietnam and other issues was lax, but I think that the whole point of this horse was how his victory united Americans in something positive, a break from the cultural tumult of the 70s.

Casting: This film was very much carried by cast--Diane Lane was amazing of course, but John Malkovich's sassy portrayal of trainer Lucien took the cake for me. With films where you know the outcome (Titanic or Elizabeth for example), the relationships between the people is key and the cast did an amazing job.

Art Direction: So here's the controversy--one (in my op) slightly crazy reviewer has compared the art direction of the horse races and images of Secretariat in the film to Nazi director Leni Riefenstahl's fascist art style. Before you let this freak you out, let me enlighten you: Every American sports film is filmed this way--you know, dynamic angles and panning to celebrate the almost superhuman nature of the athletes? So I think that reviewer's comments were more directed at a hatred for Disney based on their perception of Disney's values (besides, there are more dangerously political films shot in this style to complain about). This film captured the excitement of the races for me, and I was able to feel about the same level of excitement I do when I watch the real thing, and so was my mother. Which is saying something, since she was around to watch Secretariat's real Triple Crown victory! My favorite shot was the river of hats streaming into Churchill Downs, then cut to the hippies also there to share in the excitement of the sport. My mother turned and said, "That's how it was--me and my flower child friends and our mother's generation in the same place on the same team for once."

Equity: Yes, this something I am going to mention. I felt this movie didn't take enough time with the character of Eddie Sweat, Secretariat's African-American groom. I don't feel that his portrayal was too rough or stereotyped, but he kind of came off as a "magical negro" because we don't see enough of his character.

Wardrobe: I love 70s fashion, and this film showcased the full range from hippie bohemian to Neo-Grecian fluted elegance. If you're interested in the period from a fashion perspective, you should see this costumes and sets for this movie.

What I Liked Most: Penny's relationship with more liberal daughter Kate (AJ Michalka), and how taking on the responsibilities she did ended up bringing her closer to her kids. I actually thought this was more of a mother-daughter movie than a family values stockpic, especially with the message of tolerance Lane's depiction of Penny gives to her daughter's antiwar efforts. Sure this movie has Christian overtones, but lots of my favorite films have religious messages and having them does not a bad picture make in my opinion.

Overall, I give this film 4/5. I definitely recommend this as an inter-generational movie, so take your kids or your mother/grandmother and enjoy. There's been so many mixed reviews that you really have to make up your own mind in the end, but I can say that I enjoyed it and my mother loved it as her bday present.

0 comments/comment?: