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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
A Horse To Build a Dream On
by Betty Jo Tucker

An injured race horse brings a family together in Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story, a heartwarming film about courage, hard work and going the distance. Kurt Russell and Dakota Fanning deliver superb performances here as a father and daughter who finally bond while nursing and training an almost magical thoroughbred named Sonador, the Spanish word for “dreamer.” The plot may be predictable, but this movie is utterly irresistible and definitely worth seeing.    

“Every child actress worth her salt must have a-girl-and-her-horse picture,” my husband insists. He cites Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet and Shirley Temple in The Story of Seabiscuit to back up his  point.  Fanning has certainly proven “worth her salt” in such films as I Am Sam, Uptown Girls and Hide and Seek. In Dreamer, Fanning’s portrayal of a youngster in tune with her horse -- and yearning to be so with her distant father -- emerges as one of her best. With every look and gesture, this amazing little actress nails her character, a sad “old soul” in a young body who changes into a  happy, excited owner of the horse she builds a dream on.

Russell (Sky High), Hollywood’s most underrated actor, almost breaks my heart as a father who’s lost faith in himself and in the joy of living. Drowning in financial problems and estranged from his own father (Kris Kristofferson, quite moving in this low-key supporting role), the character he plays owns the only horse farm without a horse in an area where the “sport of kings” rules. To make matters worse, this very unhappy man loses his job at a prosperous neighboring farm when he refuses to “put down” Sonador after the horse fractures a leg in a race the filly almost won. He takes the animal back to his farm, not realizing how attached his daughter will become to the ailing horse. She even sneaks out at night to feed Sonador popsicles!

The most compelling aspect of this film involves its depiction of how the father, daughter and grandfather develop more healthy relationships with one another because of their intense work with Sonador. Their improved rapport also makes a big difference to Russell’s worried wife (lovely Elisabeth Shue), who begins to smile more and more each day. When the entire family cheers while watching Sonador’s big race, I wanted to stand and shout with them.

As a matter of fact, most audience members at the screening I attended did cheer loudly during Dreamer’s thrilling race sequence, something I’ve never seen an audience do before, not even during those exciting Seabiscuit races. Credit for evoking this much viewer involvement goes to first-time director and writer (Coach Carter) John Gatins and to cinematographer Fred Murphy (Secret Window) for their expert pacing and visual storytelling skills.

Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story reminds us not to give up on our dreams, no matter how many obstacles stand in the way. After all, chasing those dreams might be as important as achieving them. It’s a treat to watch this inspiring story unfold on the big screen.

(Released by DreamWorks and rated “PG” for mild language. Reviewed after the Sneak Preview of October 16, 2005.)

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