Thursday, September 23, 2010

Horses are animals. Sure they're pretty and shiny and furry and run fast and helped out a whole bunch before the automobile was invented, but I've never bought into all the hysteria surrounding our favorite glue manufacturing animal. As a result, movies like The Horse Whisperer, Flicka, Flicka 2, Black Beauty, Hildago, Seabiscuit, and Racing Stripes have all lacked a certain Pizazz for me.

Every single one of these movies, at one point or another, have done that shot from a low angle. You know the one, with slow motion, A golden sunset highlighting the animal, the movie pretty much screaming at you to notice how royal and majestic these noble animals are.

Well, at least Secretariat goes the full monty and declares the horse might as well be Jesus. Literally there's talk of how this horse saved them, saved everyone (sniffle). Example: movie starts with some epic battle music, booming bass, and I'm half expecting Scotland to come running at the screen declaring freedom. Suddenly, Diane Lane starts quoting the bible for some bizarre reason, so bizzare in fact that I was too distracted by the confusion in the first 15 seconds of the film that I couldn't even pay attention to the words.

The story starts out decently enough, Diane Lane plays Penny, who grew up on a farm but has since moved away for 1970's style upper middle class nuclear family bliss, her husband is a lawyer, her daughters politically active, but darn if something isn't missing.

Something interesting happens eventually as Penny's mother dies and gets the plot going. After returning home to the farm and firing a less than reputable horse trainer, Penny can't help but get involved in the family business of horse racing and raising, despite her being just a house wive. Irking her brother who, naturally wants to sell the farm, and husband who doesn't understand all this crazy horse stuff, thus making him my favorite character in the movie. But Penny carries on, following her dream. Or neglecting her family. I report, you decide.

Then we're off to races (ha ha) in the horse movie cliché-o-meter, with the beautiful, majestic, gooey birth of a young stallion. I've seen this kind of scene in about every movie that takes place on a farm, and I still don't understand the appeal. I never will.

Eventually Diane Lane recruits Lucien Laurin ,and some personality to the proceedings, as an easily annoyed but unorthodox trainer who's trying to retire. He's zany, he's easily annoyed, and eccentric. What with those different colored hats and funky shorts all. Look at him being all different, ho ho.

From there the plot marches on pretty standardly. The advertisements make a point of telling us this is an IMPOSSIBLE TRUE STORY (Which is an oxymoron), so it's not like there's any real drama to be had here. We knew the horse was going to win and be the greatest ever, Penny would be called a house wife three or four times, the husband will come around to her way of thinking AFTER she's had great success and is no longer a laughing stock, eventually Penny starts quoting the bible in voice over again, then bumpers of what happened to all the characters of the film before the credits roll, which were also really, really weird, and then I get to go home. I realize I was not in any way shape or form in the mind of the producers of this film, and anything I really wanted to know about the horse racing rigamarole could have been done reading wikipedia on the John.

If you're going to make a movie based on a true event, your movie has to be the journey, not the conclusion. For example no one watches Zodiac to figure out who the killer is at the end. So the script really has to pop, and the movie has to excite, and entertain, and this movie doesn't. Sure it's beautifully shot, and the horse races are exciting, but exciting in the same way re-watching the fight Rocky IV is exciting. The Social Network, which is also a dramatized biopic, entertained by overlaying subtext of belonging and being socially outcasted, to give us some insight into why everything happened the way it did.

Here, in this film, it seems like everyone was just content to tell us how it happened. There's a little bit about being your own woman, and it seemed like the stuff with Penny's war protesting daughters could make for an interesting subtext about sticking up for what you believe in, but all this stuff is just granulated sugar sprinkled on top of the cake, not actual ingredients or even frosting.

The movie would have been far more interesting (Or entertaining, even) if Penny was doing all of this racing and such to get out of a life of domesticated hell, that's at least something. And even though the “You're just a housewife!” count came in at about five (or 2.5 per hour), even this isn't a common theme. She never has to fight for respect, she never has anything happen to her because she's just a wife and mother. But instead it's just..there.

Then to bring the movie to an delightfully offensive halt is the magical negro. I am the first person to tell people who cite racism in films to shove it, it's just a movie, but this was bad. The black horse trainer in the film is just awful. He has no depth, and really just seems to carry the horse around, and be around to say things like hell, and damn, and “oooh boy yousa gonna win this har race! Yess youuarr Yes sirree”. This character is the most offensive thing to happen to African Americans since Jar Jar Binks. Of course Jar Jar binks at least had family and motivation outside of just existing.

The best thing I can say about this film is that it commits the impossibly true story of Secretariat to film in a way that is not asinine. I didn't hate the movie, I was just bored. Just as I was bored with all those other horse movies, just like I was with adaptation of the graphic novel Watchmen. Which, like Secretariat Strived to commit a story to celluloid as faithfully as possible, versus do anything interesting or unique or outside the box with the source material. Well, actually, in Watchmen they changed the ending.

Wouldn't that have been something here.

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