DREAMER: INSPIRED BY A TRUE STORY
In Lexington, Kentucky, Cale Crane (Dakota Fanning) lives with her financially struggling parents on a "horse farm with no horses" When her father Ben (Kurt Russell) loses his job, in lieu of a full payout he accepts the right to carry away an injured horse Soņador, which he plans to nurse back to health and breed - until the family discover she is infertile, and another plan takes shape.
Review by Jake Wilson:
The title says it all, even if Dreamer: Inspired By The Works Of Steven Spielberg would be more accurate. Screenwriting manuals have taught us that every film is (or should be) a Hero's Journey, but writer-director John Gatins takes that gospel so literally it's hard to know whether to admire his purity or marvel at his lack of imagination. As soon as Kurt Russell loses his job and stakes a third of his dwindling capital on a broken-down racehorse, we know this will be a story of success against the odds: The Little Engine that Could, the dog who has his day.
So no prizes for guessing how it all turns out, twenty or so sunlit montage sequences later. Indeed, Gatins can only stretch the tale to feature length by making his characters leap over one arbitrarily-placed hurdle after another - as if anyone were ever in doubt whether little Dakota Fanning would find the entrance fee for the big race, or convince the family's young stable hand to get back in the saddle as a jockey, or melt the heart of her loving but embittered father (who sensibly wants a more secure future for his daughter than horse training).
Though the title is ostensibly the English translation of Soņador it's Fanning's character who's the real "dreamer" of the movie - an old soul who redeems the adults through her steadfast, quasi-mystical faith. It's a role that could have been played by Shirley Temple, even if Fanning's demeanour is mopey rather than perky in accordance with modern convention. Corny though it sounds, there's no reason Cale's heroic innocence couldn't be genuinely "inspirational" - except that Pierson's script equates childhood perception with banal simplicity, and spends more time spelling out its aspirations than bringing the story to life.
If you want your film to be a timeless "modern myth", you have to work for it. Explicitly comparing Kurt Russell to a king doesn't help much, nor does providing him with feudal retainers in the persons of Freddy Rodriguez and Luiz Guzman (who do a kind of running Hispanic minstrel show). My guess is there needed to be more of the actual horse, barely a character beyond her erratic temperament and taste for Popsicles; more of the off-the-cuff, humorous family interaction that Spielberg often manages to sneak into Act One; more empty Kentucky fields and grey skies. More faith, or failing that, more cynicism. If you believe in your dreams, they can happen ... but it's hard to say whether anyone truly believed in this story. Probably not for long enough.
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DREAMER: INSPIRED BY A TRUE STORY (PG)
CAST: Kurt Russell, Dakota Fanning, Kris Kristofferson, Elisabeth Shue, David Morse, Freddy Rodriguez, Luis Guzman, Oded Fehr, Ken Howard
PRODUCER: Hunt Lowry, Brian Robbins
DIRECTOR: John Gatins
SCRIPT: John Gatins
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Fred Murphy
EDITOR: David Rosenbloom
MUSIC: John Debney
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Brent Thomas
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: VIC: March 9; QLD: April 6; NSW/WA/SA: April 13
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Home Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: September 7, 2006