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Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story (9/10)

by Tony Medley

This is a beautifully made, well acted, old fashioned movie with humor, pathos, and a good premise. Ben (Kurt Russell) is a horse trainer with a beautiful, loving wife, Lilly (Elisabeth Shue), a darling daughter, Cale (Dakota Fanning), and an estranged father, Pop (Kris Kristofferson). There’s even a bad guy, Palmer (David Morse), who fires Ben at the start of the movie but reappears without any improvement in his personality. Ben, who is training Palmer’s mare, Soñador, advises Palmer not to run her because she’s got a weak leg. Palmer runs her anyway and Soñador, known as Sonya, predictably, falls and breaks her leg. The true story upon which this is based is that of Mariah’s Storm, who broke her leg before the 1993 Breeder’s Cup. Writer-director John Gatkins knew of this story because he used to hang out at the track and had heard a lot of stories about horses. He developed this screenplay based on the story of Mariah’s Storm. I liked this better than “Seabiscuit” (2004) and I liked “Seabiscuit.” Gatkins makes a superlative directing debut.

Originally Gatkins had three generations of men in mind for the film, but after he saw Dakota Fanning in “Man on Fire,” he changed the child from a son to a daughter. Good decision, because Fanning is a special talent. The father-daughter chemistry between Russell and Fanning couldn’t be more electric. One of these days, Russell is going to get the recognition he deserves. I’ve never seen him less than superb.

One of the touching elements of this film is Russell’s character, Ben. He’s not only a great trainer, he’s a financially troubled man with who is weak in the relationship department. Not only does he have a rift with his father, but he can’t seem to communicate with his daughter, Cale, who clearly adores him.

While Russell gets top billing and does a great job, this is Dakota Fanning’s movie. She is a can’t-miss superstar, if she isn’t one already. As cute as she is, she is as good an actress as you’ll ever see.

Cynics who prefer special effects and sexuality and lewd behavior and profanity and violence may demean this as predictable and saccharin. Much as I loved it, it stretches credulity when Ben entrusts the family jewels to Cale. The man has no money and no income. It’s unlikely that he would do what he does in the movie when he is in such dire financial straits.

But this is, after all, a movie. And as far as I’m concerned this comes close to being a perfect movie, one easily enjoyed by children and adults alike.

October 21, 2005