By Shawn McKenzie 10/21/2005
I’m still waiting for the right movie to come along to showcase the extraordinary talents of actress Dakota Fanning. Dreamer (the whole title is Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story, but it feels a little implied when writing it, so I’m just sticking with Dreamer) is a decent but not particularly thrilling movie with good acting. If the story were a little more interesting, then this could have been Fanning’s Oscar contender.
Ben Crane (Kurt Russell) is a horse trainer who has been doing this for a long time, and he is always too busy. He has already sold off most of his family’s horse farm, but he still works for Everett Palmer (David Morse) in the Wishman Stables at the Kentucky Fairgrounds, the local horse racetrack. Ben has so little time that he doesn’t spend much of it with his wife Lily (Elisabeth Shue), a waitress at the Backstretch Diner, or their 10-year-old daughter Cale (Fanning.) One day, Lily convinces Ben to take Cale to the stable. While there, she gets to meet track workers Balon (Luis Guzmán) and former jockey Manolin (Freddy Rodríguez.) Ben current project is training Soñador (which is Spanish for “Dreamer;” the horse is played by Sacrifice), a.k.a. Sonya. Sonya has a sweet tooth, and in fact, she eats Cale’s licorice out of her hands. Ben doesn’t think that Sonya should be racing that day, since there is heat emanating from her leg, but Palmer overrules him. The stable owner has been hired by Prince Sadir (Oded Fehr) to train a horse that will beat the horse of his brother Prince Tariq (Antonio Albadran), and Palmer puts that pressure on Ben. During the race, Sonya breaks her leg, and Ben takes the horse back to the stables. Palmer wants Ben to put the horse down, but Ben disagrees with Palmer, and he fires Ben. Ben asks for the $9000 that he is owed, but Palmer only has $6000 on him. He agrees to take the money and Sonya. He has Balon and Manolin take Sonya back to the horse farm, where they will heal the leg and possibly use her for breeding, since she is a champion horse. Ben’s horseman father, Pop (Kris Kristofferson), who still lives next door to them but is estranged to him, tells him that he should have put the horse down. Ben doesn’t think that is right, and he also doesn’t want Cale to have any ideas of getting into the horse racing business. It is Pop that comes to the rescue though, because he loans Ben almost $20,000 to pay the stud fee to have Sonya breed with the horse of Ben’s friend Bill Ford (Ken Howard.) Meanwhile, Cale has been sneaking out of the house to feed Sonya popsicles, because she has fallen in love with the horse. Bad news arrives when Doc Fleming (Holmes Osborne) tells Ben that Sonya is infertile. Ben gets frustrated with the situation and yells at Lily, saying that he never would have allowed himself to be fired in the first place if Cale hadn’t been there. Cale overhears this and runs away atop of Sonya. As Ben, Balon, and Manolin rescue Cale from the horse, the stable hands notice that Sonya was making good time, and they thought that there might be a possibility that she could race again if they put in a lot of work into her training. They do just that, and with the financial assistance of Prince Sadir, Ben makes the horse a contender in the upcoming Breeders’ Cup Classic, where she will hopefully win and save their farm from bankruptcy.
First time writer/director John Gatins helmed this movie, and it is inspired by the real story of Mariah’s Storm, a champion racehorse who had injured herself in the 1993 Alcibiades Stakes race. After she recovered, she went on to win the Arlington Heights Oaks race in 1994.
This movie would be truly “inspirational” if it weren’t for the fact that it didn’t concentrate enough on the horse. In 2003’s Oscar-nominated Seabiscuit, the movie was all about the horse and his underdog status. This movie focused more on the internal family drama than it did on the horse. That is fine if you are going for sentimentality, but it makes the movie predictable and bland (at least for me.) Seabiscuit and the 1979 classic The Black Stallion were also predictable, but at least they were about the horse, and that made it more interesting for me.
The thing that saves the movie from being bad is the excellent performances, mainly from Fanning and Russell. Maybe it’s the crooked teeth, or maybe it’s just natural talent, but Fanning always comes off as a believable kid, instead of just “acting” kidlike. Russell was a former child star himself, but it’s very unusual that he hasn’t ever been nominated for an Oscar. I doubt that he will get one with this movie, but he deserves one for something.
I wouldn’t be wrong to use clichés like “heartwarming” to describe Dreamer, but as a critic who has seen this same story hundreds of times, it can get a little boring. This movie would be of definite interest to little girls, and I don’t think that the mothers of those little girls who take them to see this movie will be disappointed either. For them, this movie finishes first in the movie race, but for everyone else, especially male movie fans, this movie just places.
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