Randall Wallace‘s Secretariat (Disney, 10.8) is currently running with a 63% Rotten Tomatoes rating. I used to get grades like this on high school exams. It basically means “fail” although you got more than half the questions right. Secretariat gets some things right also, but it’s an overall flunk. I didn’t hate it — the racing footage is wonderful — but I loathe the white-ass Republican atmosphere. As I wrote last Sunday, “You never forget you’re watching a Randall Wallace family-values movie for the schmoes.”
You can be emotionally affected by Secretariat (fine, knock yourself out), but you can’t call it a “great movie,” which is what Roger Ebert has done. It’s a disproportionate use of the term and unfair to films that truly deserve it. I do, however, agree with this Ebert passage: “There’s a scene here when Penny Chenery and her horse look each other in the eye for a long time on an important morning. You can’t tell me they weren’t both thinking the same thing.”
“In its totality Secretariat is a work of creepy, half-hilarious master-race propaganda almost worthy of Leni Riefenstahl,” he says early on, “and all the more effective because it presents as a family-friendly yarn about a nice lady and her horse.
“Secretariat [presents] a honey-dipped fantasy vision of the American past as the Tea Party would like to imagine it, loaded with uplift and glory and scrubbed clean of multiculturalism and social discord.
“In the world of this movie, strong-willed and independent-minded women like Diane Lane‘s Penny Chenery are ladies first (she’s like a classed-up version of Sarah Palin feminism), left-wing activism is an endearing cute phase your kids go through (until they learn the hard truth about inheritance taxes), and all right-thinking Americans are united in their adoration of a Nietzschean Uberhorse, a hero so superhuman he isn’t human at all.
“Religion and politics are barely mentioned in the story of Chenery and her amazing horse, but it’s clear that Secretariat was constructed and marketed with at least one eye on the conservative Christian audiences who embraced The Blind Side. The film opens with a voice-over passage from the Book of Job and ends with a hymn. Wallace, also the director of We Were Warriors and the writer of Pearl Harbor and Braveheart, is one of mainstream Hollywood’s few prominent Christians, and has spoken openly about his faith and his desire to make movies that appeal to ‘people with middle-American values.’
“It’s legitimate to wonder exactly what Christian-friendly and ‘middle-American’ inspirational values are being conveyed here, or whether they’re just providing cover for some fairly ordinary right-wing ideology and xenophobia. This long-suffering female Job overcomes such tremendous obstacles as having been born white and Southern and possessed of impressive wealth and property, and who then lucks into owning a genetic freak who turned out to be faster and stronger than any racehorse ever foaled.”