Title: Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story
Genre: Drama, Family, Sport
Director: John Gatins
Screenwriters: John Gatins
Starring: Kurt Russell, Dakota Fanning, Oded Fehr
“Did we really need this movie?” the critics will ask. “Did we really need another movie about an underdog horse, or a girl and her [pet], or a daddy with daddy issues?” Well, of course we didn’t. There is no universe on which Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story would be a vital film. All the same, you can have a good movie about a girl and her horse, or you can have a bad movie about a girl and her horse. This just happens to be a bad one, but hey: that’s not a judgment on the genre. I eagerly look forward to the next good movie about a girl and her horse.
With my “rah-rah-genre-movie” spiel out of the way, I can go ahead and make my Suggestion of the Week: instead of adding the awkward title Inspired by a True Story, they should have gone with something that had a bit more ring to it. My choice: Dreamer: Still Better than Seabiscuit. Because it is. And considering all the attention and fame awarded that debacle, I suppose we can expect the same for Dreamer. Right?
Well, no, and I’m glad. Dreamer goes through the motions openly, and without much force or conviction. Often, the clichés don’t even have the slightest cushion of screenwriting dexterity to muffle the “thud” they make when they fall; Ben Crane (Kurt Russell) to his eccentric hermit of a father (Kris Kristofferson), after having brought an injured horse home and being told by everyone to “put her down”: “You ran a horse with a broken cannon bone once. You harnessed it somehow so it couldn’t move, and it healed fine.” Father’s response: “That was a long time ago, Benjamin. You were just a little boy then.” Uh-huh.
It’s that sort of cheap, silly, thoroughly expired nonsense that writer-director John Gatins’ screenplay tries to pawn off on us, and most people, I suspect, will resist. When I decide I’m tired of something, I usually try to distinguish between something I am tired of as someone who sees hundreds of movies each year (e.g. movies that open with a crucial late-film scene and return to it later), and something that any self-respecting moviegoer should be treating with hoots of derision (e.g. “Since she’s been in that barn, we’ve had a family”). The majority of Dreamer will (or ought to, at least) fall into the latter category, including the overbearing John Debney score, the ridiculous villain never seen out of a black suit (a game David Morse), and the blunt instrument storytelling, which gives us Ben going to parents night and his daughter’s school and reading a story about a king and his magical horse, and what do you know, he’s the king.
Oh, and before I forget: there’s a race angle to the movie too, as we see Ben defend his faithful Mexican employees against the cruel bad guy, who tells him to “get out of here and take the Mexicans with you.” (Response: “They’re not Mexicans! They’re men!”) And then, the aforementioned Mexicans (Luis Guzman and Freddy Rodriguez) stick around and act helpful, being obedient and cheering on our heroes. It’s kind of funny.
Yet, Dreamer is not a complete waste. I liked the character of Cale, who is rendered non-precocious by Dakota Fanning’s tough, interesting performance: she’s just a little girl, and the movie gets certain things precisely right. Watch her reaction as her father hints that he knows about all those popsicles she’s been feeding the ailing horse; it’s perfect. And the climax of the film generates about as much excitement as you might expect from a well-shot climactic horse race; to his credit, too, Gatins knows not to drag out the denoument, ending on a triumphant high note. If only the story as a whole weren’t so creaky, so silly, so generic. But hey: it’s still better than Seabiscuit.