I admit that Secretariat falls into that category of Disney sport film that is filled with cliches, easy morality and predictable plots. I will also admit that Secretariat doesn't fall far from the tree. Despite that, I admit that I truly enjoyed the film. It's a guilty pleasure.
But maybe I don't have to feel that guilty. Diane Lane doesn't often get the kinds of roles she deserves and this is another example of how she has "it" on screen. I've crushed on her since I was a little boy and, yes she is strikingly beautiful, but she also has that classic screen presence that adds something to the film. She finds a way to rise above the level of the film to make it seem like she's not slumming. This is a very watchable performance.
John Malkovitch does a lot of slumming lately but he also rises above it here to be quite enjoyable to watch too. No one feels like they are phoning it in, as these sorts of films often feel.
Maybe it's the lack of pretension that makes Secretariat so enjoyable. Unlike a cheesefest like The Blind Side, this film doesn't try to sell some easy to swallow message. It just tells a story. Sure the story may be a bit trite in its "win against all odds" simplicity, but it isn't trying to come off as holier than thou. It just wants to make us smile.