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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Secretariat

By
Joseph McAleer
Source: Catholic News Service


Diane Lane stars in "Secretariat."
Not many Hollywood films open by quoting the Book of Job on the grandeur of horses: "In frenzied excitement he eats up the ground; he paws fiercely, rejoicing in his strength, and charges into the fray, afraid of nothing, when the trumpet sounds." (Job 39: 21-24, New International Version).

But then, not many films are as exceptional as "Secretariat" (Disney), an exuberant and inspirational retelling of the real-life story of—arguably—the greatest racehorse of all time.

"Secretariat" is more than just a rousing sports movie. Much like "Seabiscuit," "Secretariat" explores the human dynamics surrounding the animal, extolling the importance of family and the virtues of perseverance and courage. Viewers of faith, moreover, will appreciate a strong undercurrent of religious fervor.

There's quite a saga behind the 1973 Triple Crown winner. Diane Lane plays Penny Tweedy, the nonequine lead. When her mother dies, and her father, Christopher (Scott Glenn), a prominent breeder, becomes incapacitated, Penny returns to her roots on a Virginia horse farm. Though proud and happy as a housewife, Penny rises to the defense of the failing business and assumes control.

Blessed events are about to happen to the stable's two mares, sired by the famous stallion Bold Ruler, owned by Ogden Phipps (James Cromwell). Ogden and Christopher had agreed to a coin toss to decide ownership of the offspring, and Penny upholds the plan. Ogden wins the toss, and chooses what he thinks will prove the better racehorse. Penny disagrees, and the rest, as they say, is history.

There's something special about Secretariat right from the start. Gentle-hearted groom Eddie Sweat (Nelsan Ellis) marvels when the foal jumps, moments after being born: "Have you ever seen that, a colt stand up so fast on his feet?"

But the road to racing success is a rocky one. Large and chestnut-colored, "Big Red" (Secretariat's first name) is fat and lazy and branded the underdog. "He eats too much, sleeps too much, and lays against the back of the starting gate like he's in the Caribbean," laments his hard-driving trainer, Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich).

After Penny's father dies, the taxman cometh, and Penny is pressured by her brother and husband to sell the farm and the horses. She is determined to see through her father's dream, juggling family commitments while battling sexism in the male-dominated horse world. At her side is her father's indomitable assistant, Miss Ham (Margo Martindale), who rechristens Big Red "Secretariat" after her first choice, "Deo Volente" ("God Willing"), is turned down.

Nobody messes with this dynamic duo, and Penny earns a reputation for being "tough as nails." Against all odds, Secretariat emerges as a winner, and Penny's success inspires others, especially her family.

"Secretariat" barrels towards the Triple Crown as its climax. These are re-created with skill, with the viewer plunged right into the middle of the action, dirt flying and horses heaving as the soundtrack soars with Negro spirituals.

Directed by Randall Wallace (who wrote the screenplay for the 1995 blockbuster "Braveheart"), "Secretariat" is at once a thrilling sports movie and a moving family drama. Unencumbered by any really objectionable elements, this cinematic champ can be cheered on by a wide audience.

The film contains some tense emotional moments and heated arguments. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

*****
Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.


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John Paul II: “Open wide the doors to Christ,” urged John Paul II during the homily at the Mass when he was installed as pope in 1978. <br /><br />Born in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla had lost his mother, father and older brother before his 21st birthday. Karol’s promising academic career at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. While working in a quarry and a chemical factory, he enrolled in an “underground” seminary in Kraków. Ordained in 1946, he was immediately sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology. <br /><br />Back in Poland, a short assignment as assistant pastor in a rural parish preceded his very fruitful chaplaincy for university students. Soon he earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching that subject at Poland’s University of Lublin. <br /><br />Communist officials allowed him to be appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958, considering him a relatively harmless intellectual. They could not have been more wrong! <br /><br />He attended all four sessions of Vatican II and contributed especially to its <em>Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World</em>. Appointed as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, he was named a cardinal three years later. <br /><br />Elected pope in October 1978, he took the name of his short-lived, immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. In time, he made pastoral visits to 124 countries, including several with small Christian populations. <br /><br />He promoted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, especially the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi. He visited Rome’s Main Synagogue and the Western Wall in Jerusalem; he also established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. He improved Catholic-Muslim relations and in 2001 visited a mosque in Damascus, Syria. <br /><br />The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a key event in John Paul’s ministry, was marked by special celebrations in Rome and elsewhere for Catholics and other Christians. Relations with the Orthodox Churches improved considerably during his ministry as pope. <br /><br />“Christ is the center of the universe and of human history” was the opening line of his 1979 encyclical, <em>Redeemer of the Human Race</em>. In 1995, he described himself to the United Nations General Assembly as “a witness to hope.” <br /><br />His 1979 visit to Poland encouraged the growth of the Solidarity movement there and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe 10 years later. He began World Youth Day and traveled to several countries for those celebrations. He very much wanted to visit China and the Soviet Union but the governments in those countries prevented that. <br /><br />One of the most well-remembered photos of his pontificate was his one-on-one conversation in 1983 with Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier. <br /><br />In his 27 years of papal ministry, John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people. <br /><br />In the last years of his life, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was forced to cut back on some of his activities. <br /><br />Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II in 2011, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014. American Catholic Blog Lord, may I have balance and measure in everything—except in Love. —St. Josemaría Escrivá

 
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