"I'll be blunt:
Lose and you're glue."

© 2005, DreamWorks
All Rights Reserved

Once the best horseman in the business, Ben Crane (Kurt Russell) is finding it hard to keep his dreams alive. When his last assignment, a racehorse named Sonador, breaks a leg on the track, Ben quits his job and takes the horse in, hoping to breed her for profit. After years of neglecting his father (Kris Kristofferson), wife Lily (Elisabeth Shue), and daughter Cale (Dakota Fanning), Ben finds Sonador's lengthy and demanding healing process brings him closer to those he loves. When disappointment strikes again, Ben and Cale hatch a plan to train Sonador to race, looking to enter the prestigious and expensive Breeders' Cup to finally test their questionable steed.

"Dreamer" (IMDb listing) is the kind of film Walt Disney Productions used to make with regularity decades ago. DreamWorks, taking a note from Disney, delivers a sweet, solidly constructed family film. "Dreamer" may be short on surprises, but it has enough heart for 10 movies.

Casting former Disney favorite Kurt Russell was the first of many smart choices made by writer/director John Gatins. "Dreamer" is a film that enjoys its formula, and the only way to rise above the stink of cliche is to cast tightly and Kurt Russell brings to the film a rippling sense of reality. His Ben is a man mired in frustration; he's shut his life down and pushed everyone away. Russell finds the soul of this man right away, from the embarrassment of Ben having to ask for favors to the ice-melting joy of seeing his daughter ease into the family business. Russell plays off his co-stars well, forming snug chemistry with Dakota Fanning (good as well, but a little too prepared at times), and passing off a strong sense of history with Kris Kristofferson without the script's assistance. Russell's work here is marvelous, making the sometimes dramatically questionable "Dreamer" appear vital and alive.

Gatins doesn't beat around the bush with "Dreamer," molding a straightforward redemption tale, complete with bad guys in black suits, and characters invented solely to recite inspiring speeches to the downtrodden (sorry Elisabeth Shue). However, Gatkins trumps his mess of cliches by leading with his heart. "Dreamer" is touching material, and as it slowly boils, the audience begins to care about the characters, and the thrill of Sonador's rise to health takes on real weight. Does Ben redeem himself? Will Sonador race in the Breeders' Cup? Does she even have a chance to win? The questions could be answered without even seeing the film. The true warmth of "Dreamer" lies in the journey, and to nitpick the film to bits would be missing its strengths. This is a film about nuanced performances, positive messages on family and responsibility, and good old-fashioned underdog cinema thrills. To see "Dreamer" hum as strong as it does is worth the price of admission.

Filmfodder Grade: B+

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