Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

"The story is told without frills and if you find yourself choking with emotion practically all the way through, it doesn't feel faked."

It seems inconceivable that a little girl/big horse love story, in the hoof prints of Seabiscuit, is going to be anything but molasses thick. Hollywood kids' films are spectacularly sentimental and Dreamer has to be up there with the stickiest. The title alone melts expectation and encourages a sugar rush.

Writer/director John Gatins should be congratulated on containing, within the genre, obvious excesses. The plot, "inspired by a true story" (this is the new mantra), involves a racehorse with a broken leg that is saved from the lethal bullet and loved back to health to race again.

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At the centre is the Crane family, which, contrary to convention, has problems, both financial and personal. Based in Lexington, Kentucky, theirs was a thriving racing stables, but something went wrong and now there isn't a single horse in the paddock. Ben (Kurt Russell) is the employee of an arrogant businessman (David Morse), who manages thoroughbreds for an Arab prince. After a promising filly, Senador, crashes on the final straight during a race and breaks a foreleg, Ben is sacked and, in lieu of back pay, is allowed to take the injured horse home.

With the help of his Mexican support team, groom Balon (Luis Guzman) and budding jockey Manolin (Freddy Rodriguez), and the enthusiasm of 10-year-old daughter Cale (Dakota Fanning), Senador's leg heals and there is the chance that she will become a valuable brood mare until the vet delivers unwelcome news.

It would be easy to say that the performances maketh the movie, which negates Gatins' contribution. The story is told without frills and if you find yourself choking with emotion practically all the way through, it doesn't feel faked.

Russell avoids every cliche of proud father and hard working horseman and shows glimpses of how practical difficulties in life can cut the traces to the human heart. Kris Kristofferson, as Ben's dad, is fast becoming iconic, the tall, silver haired patriarch, with the slow Southern drawl, who, in this case, is too proud to accept responsibility for defeat, or failure, while Elisabeth Shue is in the difficult position of playing a loving wife and caring mother, who works at the local diner and tries not to lose touch with what she once hoped for in marriage.

If the film belongs to Fanning, it is because she is capable of bringing genuine feeling to a role that might have killed with cuteness. Cale is spontaneous and strong willed and Fanning never, for one moment, loses sight of that. May her teeth remain forever crooked and her smile conduct the electricity of unexpected joy.

Reviewed on: 21 Oct 2005
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The story of a racehorse with a broken leg and a little girl who won't give up.
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Director: John Gatins

Writer: John Gatins

Starring: Kurt Russell, Dakota Fanning, Kris Kristofferson, Elisabeth Shue, David Morse, Freddy Rodriguez, Luis Guzman, Oded Fehr

Year: 2005

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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