In 1993, a filly named Mariah’s Storm had her bid for a Breeder’s Cup smashed when she fractured her cannon bone in a race. Her trainers persevered, however, and the horse’s eventual comeback has now inspired a terrific movie from the producing team behind such sports dramas as “Varsity Blues,” “Radio” and “Coach Carter.”

“Dreamer” stars Kurt Russell as Ben Crane, a Kentucky horseman who inherited a horse farm from his father, only to see bad times slowly eat away at his livelihood. He’s been left with a horse farm but no horses.


Now he makes his living doing maintenance and workouts for other men’s horses while struggling to keep up relationships with his wife (Elisabeth Shue), daughter Cale (Dakota Fanning) and father (Kris Kristofferson).


When the filly Sonya (short for Soñador, which is Spanish for “Dreamer”) endures what is surely a career-ending injury, Ben’s boss, Palmer (David Morse), wants to put Sonya down and Ben out of work.


But Ben won’t have it. Whether out of instinct, or because Cale is present, or because Sonya is some sort of special horse, Ben negotiates for Sonya’s life. His farm finally has a horse—albeit a crippled one.


While Ben sees at least a chance to maybe breed Sonya and make some money, Cale sees … a horse. A magic horse. A horse that can bring her closer to her father, and bring her own father closer to his father. Sonya eventually becomes both the source of familial conflict and its potential resolution.


“Dreamer” works itself out in some fairly straightforward story lines, including the villainous Palmer and even a climactic race sequence. The film is set in Kentucky, and interestingly it has an international flavor to it.


Gatins surrounds the struggling American family with two Mexicans (Luis Guzman and Freddy Rodriguez) who know a thing or two about horses, and two Arab brothers intent on competing with each other via their expensive racehorses.


But it’s not the story lines that make the movie; it’s everything in between them.


Gatins deserves credit for assembling the appropriate cast for this movie. Russell, probably one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, just keeps getting better with age. He and Kristofferson play off of each other quite well, and their father-son tension rings true.


Dakota Fanning has been garnering rave reviews over the last few years and is the go-to young actress right now, and she proves why here. The supporting cast, especially Luis Guzman, is terrific also. The only thing lacking is a bit more character development for Ben’s wife, Lilly, in the first half of the film.


Gatins has scripted several films for Mike Tollin and Brian Robbins, the filmmaking duo enthralled with sports stories, but “Dreamer” marks his directorial debut. His good sensibility for pacing and visual storytelling accounts for some truly excellent scenes: when the life of the titular horse hangs in the balance, when Ben learns about the depths of Cale’s belief in him, and the climactic race. “Dreamer” should garner more work for Gatins behind the camera.


“Dreamer” is the latest in a line of recent horse films like “Seabiscuit” and “Racing Stripes,” though “Dreamer” is tonally much more like the former—and just as satisfying.


Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for


MPAA Rating: PG for brief mild language. Reviewer’s Note: Just a terrific film that people of all ages will enjoy.

Director: John Gatins

Writer: John Gatins

Cast: Ben Crane: Kurt Russell; Cale Crane: Dakota Fanning; Pop Crane: Kris Kristofferson; Lilly: Elisabeth Shue; Balon: Luis Guzman; Manolin: Freddy Rodriguez; Palmer: David Morse; Prince Sadir: Oded Fehr.


The movie’s official Web site is here. (The site includes family-focused materials—even a study guide for church groups.)


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