“Inspired by a true story” and filtered through a formula thats as old as family films themselves, “Dreamer” fulfills what one can extrapolate were the ultimate goals of it’s creation: It’s innocuous, inoffensive and establishes a nice, understated and genuine-feeling father/daughter connection between the lead characters of a skilled but embittered horse trainer (Kurt Russell) and his young daughter (Dakota Fanning.) It’s not especially grand and certainly could stand to play it less “safe,” but there’s nothing “wrong” with it and it’s eventually pretty difficult to dislike.
Russell’s character is a horseman who, according to his codgerly father (Kris Kristofferson,) is “the best,” but he’s down on his luck. Some bitter falling out between he and said father has led to barns empty of horses and a farm being sold off bit by bit, while he toils under a heartless creep (David Morse) as the head trainer for racehorses owned by a wealthy Arab prince.
Daughter Cale, who wants to be just like dad… or, rather, she wants to be just like the man she’s certain dad could be if he just start training his own horses again… tags along with him to a race, where a filly named Sonador breaks it’s leg. It should be put down, but Cale’s presence makes doing so impossible for dad. Fired for insurrection, he leaves and takes the “broken” horse with him, betting that her pedigree will make her at least valuable for breeding. Cale is, of course, instantly smitten with Sonador, and begins to think she may have more race left in her…
Yeah. It’s one of these. It goes without saying, for adults, that the way this plays out is pure formula. Yes, the horse gets better. Yes, the process of caring for a wounded animal brings the strained family back together. And yes, the psychologically troubled spanish jockey who pitches in will probably get his moxie back in time for the Big Race. The audience that “Dreamer” is aiming for, though, is likely not to have seen this play out so many times before, so they’ll be more forgiving of such.
It’s nowhere near perfect. The horse itself doesn’t end up carrying the kind of character weight that “Seabiscuit” did, at least in relation to the rest of the players. And while it’s understandable that the filmmakers are tilting the focus in favor of the young, certain bits of the grownup storyline could stand to be clearer (the full reason for the bitterness between Russell and Kristofferson, for example.) But, as I said, it’s eventually hard to dislike or even find much fault with something that’s trying so earnestly.
FINAL RATING: 7/10