Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story (PG) ★★

Review Date: October 22nd, 2005

As yet another underdog/family flick that tugs mercilessly at our heart strings, Dreamer just doesn’t offer anything new and exciting in this well-worn genre.


Dreamer is another one of those family films--based on a true story, no less--that makes you feel guilty for not liking it because it means so well. The film revolves around the Cranes, who have worked on their Kentucky horse farm for generations. But gifted horseman Ben Crane (Kurt Russell) loses his love for the job when the farm hits hard times. His estranged father, Pop (Kris Kristofferson), feels like his son has given up unnecessarily. Even Ben’s young daughter Cale (Dakota Fanning) can’t get through to her dad. The only way this family can heal is by helping an injured horse named Sonya get ready for a seemingly impossible goal: to win the Breeders' Cup Classic. Say it together: “Awww!”


At least the film gets it half right in its casting. Russell is perfect as the beleaguered Ben, a man who needs a little inspiration to get back on track, and he thankfully never takes it over the top. Same goes for Kristofferson, who is aptly crusty and unwilling to give his son an inch--that is, until his granddaughter and that darned horse melt his heart. And the family resemblance is uncanny; apparently the two actors have been told quite often how much they look like each other. The one misstep here is Fanning. Yes, she is an extraordinarily gifted actress for her age, but Cale should have been played by a happy, sunny child. The oh-so-serious Fanning doesn’t really qualify. Also, Elisabeth Shue as the mom is all wrong. A horse farmer’s wife? Please.


Writer-director John Gatins takes a big gamble making his directorial debut with a movie about an underdog horse. First, there’s the underdog part. This year seems a bit saturated with the plot device, what with films like Cinderella Man and most recently, Greatest Game Ever Played. Second, there’s the whole horse thing. It’s just going to be hard to top the Oscar-nominated Seabiscuit--the quintessential true horse-racing movie to beat them all. True, Dreamer is based on a true story and is nicely--albeit conventionally--framed. But the film isn’t unique in any way. It’s the same feel-good family stuff we’ve been swallowing all year. See? I told you I’d feel guilty for knocking it.