Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story
Among the year’s family films Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story appeals in a particular way to dads and daughters. Dreamer, a gentle horse-opera, (or Seasbiscuit-lite) is a multi-generational story of a family’s struggles, disappointments, and dreams that really do come true.
Ben Crane (Kurt Russell) runs hisfather’s now-failed horse farm near Lexington, KY, but works for a wealthy trainer, Palmer (David Morse), to make a living. Ben’s disappointment with life colors his relationship with his wife, Lily, (Elisabeth Shue), daughter Cale (Dakota Fanning) and his father, Pop (Kris Kristofferson).
Ben uncharacteristically takes Cale to work with him on the morning of a big race. Ben senses that the champion filly, Sonya, (short for the Spanish name Sonãdor meaning “dreamer”) is not well enough to run. He tells Palmer, but he insists that she race as planned. During the race Sonya collapses with a broken leg. The owner wants Ben to put her down then and there but Ben refuses because Cale is present. Ben takes Sonya home as severance pay because Palmer fires him on the spot.
Two assistant trainers, Balon (Luis Guzman) and Mandelo (Freddy Rodriguez), a former jockey, join Ben to heal Sonya so that she can breed. Cale loves Sonya and spends as much time as she can with her. However, the vet tells them that Sonya is infertile and their hopes for an eventual winner and prize money are dashed.
When Ben announces that he is selling Sonya, Cale decides to ride away with her, taking with them her dreams for her dad’s success and happiness. But Sonya bolts and begins to run incredibly fast to everyone’s amazement. Suddenly the situation changes and Sonya’s value soars. To avoid ownership problems, and to show his growing faith in his daughter, Ben registers Sonya in Cale’s name. He lets her make all the decisions about Sonya’s races, including the famed Breeder’s Cup.
This is the moment when Dakota Fanning as the lonely child Cale takes possession of the action; from then on, the horse and the film belong to her.
Dreamer, written and directed by John Gatins (Gods and Monsters) is faintly based on a true story, but what gives it the feel-good ending we know is coming is the reassurance that people can change, and that even a horse can be a means of grace.
Miss Fanning, one of the busiest actresses in Hollywood, proves that she can not only take direction but can act as well. Throughout the first part of Dreamer Fanning portrays Cale, a child oppressed by her father’s melancholy, despite Lily’s efforts to help them bond. As Sonya’s owner Cale matures before our eyes and demonstrates hope and faith that Sonya will win the famed Breeder’s Cup for her dad.
At first Dreamer seemed to be not only predictable but formulaic. Yet it goes beneath the surface when it addresses racial discrimination, greed, and power relations between management and workers, as well as family, relationships, communication issues, and faith.
Above all Dreamer highlights a girl, a daughter, as the family’s healing leader. Sonya is the symbol that embodies thedreams of each member of Cale’s family; the horse drives the action, so to speak. Sonya is injured, like the family. She rises up and runs free, as do Cale and her family. When Ben finally notices Cale, he takes a leap of faith and trusts her so she can and does respond with confidence and courage. Like Because of Winn-Dixie (2005) and Whale Rider (2002), Dreamer offers girls a sturdy role model in a cinematic world where stories about boys’ rites of passage prevail.
The cinematography is beautiful and the film is uncomplicated, inspiring family fare. Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story is a great date movie for ‘tween daughters and their dads.
A group Bible Study Guide for Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story that I wrote via Fuller Theological Seminary and posted on the Dreamworks/Dreamer web site can be downloaded free of charge from