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Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story Reviews

John Gatins' sentimental girl-and-her-horse drama, loosely based on the rehabilitation of a real-life thoroughbred named Mariah's Storm, sometimes stumbles into the trap of excessive predictability. But its amiable (and largely fictionalized) heart tugging still makes for charming all-ages entertainment. Spirited 10-year-old Cale (Dakota Fanning) lives on a Kentucky horse farm whose stables are currently unoccupied, but eagerly anticipates the days when she can convince her father, trainer Ben (Kurt Russell), to take her to work with him. On one such morning, after her mother, Lily (Elisabeth Shue), has left for the greasy spoon where she waits tables to help make ends meet, Cale falls for thoroughbred filly Soñador (Spanish for "Dreamer"), her father's current project. But Soñador takes a serious spill midrace, and her heartless owner, Palmer (David Morse), wants her put down; his loyalties lie with the Arab prince (Oded Fehr) who invests in racehorses for the sole purpose of besting his royal brother. Ben argues with Palmer and finds himself out of a job with $6000 in severance and the damaged horse to show for his integrity. Loyal stable hands Balon (Luis Guzman) and Manolin (Freddy Rodriguez), a jockey until he was trampled in a race, help him transport Soñador to his empty stables; Ben's hope is that her leg can be healed and she can breed. The offspring of a mare with her pedigree could bring in upwards of $300,000 and save the failing farm, but to achieve this monumental task, he must turn to his estranged father (Kris Kristofferson) for help. Cale brings horse-pleasing popsicles, Twizzlers and gently encouraging words to the cause, which eventually works a minor miracle: Soñador not only walks again, but is able to run. Cale sets her sights on entering Soñador in the high-stakes Breeders' Cup, but getting an underdog into the lineup and raising enough cash for the hefty entry fee may prove an impossible dream. Beautifully shot by Fred Murphy, the film balances intense racing scenes and soft familial moments with seamless ease. Russell is well cast as a hardworking father; his bond with the talented Fanning — who steals the show with her crooked teeth and undaunted optimism — feels thoroughly realistic and believable. It takes a hard heart to resist a story about a damaged animal and a child whose faith overcomes adult cruelty and pessimism, and this sweet-natured film offers an opportunity to surrender — at least for a couple of hours — to hope.