Who's In It: Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Scott Glenn, James Cromwell, AJ Michalka, Kevin Connolly, Dylan Walsh, Fred Dalton Thompson, Nestor Serrano, Margo Martindale
The Basics: This is the true life story of the world's most famous race horse, Secretariat, who came out of nowhere to win the Triple Crown in 1973. Only it's really about his owner Penny Chenery-Tweedy (Diane Lane), a wealthy housewife who bets everything on her horse (including her marriage, her fortune, and literally, the family farm) and comes out on top. But what Secretariat is most about is faith -- not so much of the Christian kind, though Bible quotes and gospel interludes are used superficially, but the faith one must have in themselves to will their way towards their goals. It's Disney's Blind Side-esque inspirational sports movie for the Tea Party crowd.
What's The Deal: Written by Mike Rich (Radio, The Nativity Story) and directed by Randall Wallace (We Were Soldiers), Secretariat is handsomely filmed in the muted palette of the 1960s and '70s, with spot-on period detail and costuming. Diane Lane, who is becoming one of Hollywood's favorite mature actresses to hang a film on, is luminous if a bit unsteady as Penny Chenery, commanding the frame in every second of screen time she has. But despite the pretty trappings and the authentic feeling world of stables and 1970s-era privilege that Wallace has crafted (save for his laughably inept depictions of Vietnam-protesting hippiedom), the film itself feels hollow and hokey. Blame the emphasis on faith over facts, the proselytizing dialogue and relentless messaging that might put off anyone outside the older Christian conservative target demographic.
Diane Lane, Horse Whisperer: I can believe that the real Secretariat was some horse, an exceptional specimen of his race who liked to tease the crowd and come from behind to make every big race a dramatic spectacle worthy of the nation's adoration. I want to learn about him and how he taunted other inferior horses until they cried horse tears as he sped past them to the finish line. I don't need to see Diane Lane horse-whispering her super-horse like a coach giving a pep talk before the big game, as if Secretariat needed to shoehorn any more sports movie clichés into the greatest real life racing story of all time.
John Malkovich, Crazy French-Canadian Guy: Say what you will about the spate of eccentric supporting characters Malkovich has taken on of late (also see: Red), he's darn good at it. Malkovich is in fine form here as Lucien Laurin, the brilliant trainer with a penchant for dressing like Superfly who Penny hires to whip Secretariat into shape.
Kudos/Condolences To: Nelsan Ellis, the supporting cast member with the toughest job. Ellis, better known as Lafayette from True Blood and a graduate of Juilliard, plays Secretariat groom Eddie Sweat and does an admirable job making the most of the worst cringe-worthy "Praise Jesus!" black stereotype of the year.