November 10, 2005 -- “Dreamer” is a very typical movie of the type made famous by Walt Disney. This film wasn't made by Disney studios, but it looks exactly like it should have been made by Disney. It is about a horse and a young girl. That pretty much tells you the whole story. There have been a million stories like it since “National Velvet” was first filmed. All the characters are familiar, the story is familiar, but it is well-constructed and the actors do a good job with the material. Casting is often said to be the most important thing in a movie and the casting, by Sarah Finn and Randi Hiller, is perfect in this film.
Talented child star Dakota Fanning (“War of the Worlds”) plays the central role of Cale Crane. Cale goes with her horse trainer father, Ben Crane (played by Kurt Russell of “Miracle”) to the track one day and sees a horse break its leg. In part, because Cale is there, Ben spares the horse's life, loses his job and buys the horse with a portion of his severance pay. Ben enlists the help of his father (played by veteran actor Kris Kristofferson of “Blade”) to try to heal the horse with an idea to sell the mare's offspring. With his father's help the horse is healed, well enough to think about racing it. Lots of difficulties face the family before the horse makes it to the big race. There are some plot twists, but they don't matter in the slightest. You know where this story is headed right from the starting gate.
A major part of the backstory goes unexplained. There is some kind of rift between Ben and his father. There is something in Ben's past that soured him on raising horses. None of this is explained in the film. Some parts of the story don't really make sense, like why Ben would offer to buy a horse that the owner planned to kill anyway, when he could have got the horse for nothing. Another part of the story that didn't make much sense was Ben's decision to make his daughter a majority owner of the horse. I suspect the explanations for some of these things got cut from the film to shorten its length to 102 minutes. The acting is good all around with Russell, Fanning and Kristofferson making a good ensemble, along with Elisabeth Shue of “Hide and Seek” as Lily, Ben's wife. Freddy Rodríguez of “Victor and Eddie” is effective as the jockey, Manolin, and Luis Guzmán of “Confidence” does a good job playing Balon, a horse trainer. The characters of Manolin and Balon, however, are too stereotypical. They could have been less like cookie-cutter minority characters.
The film looks great with high production values and solid cinematography by Fred Murphy (“Secret Window”). I'm sure some critics will say this film is manipulative, unoriginal, corny and predictable. Most of that is just code talk by people who don't like films with happy endings. World events and politics being what they are these days, there is plenty of bad news. Who needs more bad news movies? I happen to like happy endings, so I'm rating this film a B.
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