For you deliver a humble people,
but the haughty eyes you bring down.
This is the kind of film in which the outcome is a foregone conclusion. Haven’t we been thrilled before by National Velvet and The Black Stallion, as well as dozens of lesser films in which a child bonds with a horse (or even a zebra)? And of course, there is that great film about the most under-rated horse in America, Sea Biscuit. Even though we know the outcome, Dreamer charms the old, as well as the young (if there is a child with you, you will not mention that foregone conclusion, of course, not if you really care about children). Part of the charm is the excellent cast, centered on the star whose face we seem to be seeing in every fourth movie or so these days, Dakota Fanning. (She even makes such junk films as Uptown Girls watchable!)
Ben Crane (Kurt Russell) trains horses for an Arabian consortium managed by profit-concerned Palmer (David Morse). When Ben, who seems to be akin to a horse whisperer, tells Palmer that their horse Soñador should not run in today’s race, Palmer brushes his concerns aside. His boss, the Prince, is in the stands, so he is not about to scratch the horse. Of course, well into the race Soñador does fall, breaking his leg. Normally Ben would have ordered the horse put down, but his daughter Cale (Dakota Fanning) has come with him this day. He cannot stand to kill the horse before her big, trusting eyes. Plus he is angry at his boss for putting the horse at risk against his advice.
Ben and Palmer argue angrily, with Ben quitting his job but splinting the stricken horse’s leg and taking it home with them. This will be the first horse in the Crane stables for some time. Something that we are not told about happened years before that caused Ben and his wife Lilly (Elizabeth Shue) to sell off their stock. Somehow it must have involved Ben’s father, Pop Crane (Kris Kristofferson), once a horse trainer like his son. The two have barely spoken to each other since, Pop living in his own cabin on the farm. The old man, dubious of his son’s decision to try to save the horse, refuses at first to help him nurse it.
This is where Cale comes in. When she first tries to approach Soñador in his stall, the horse rears up against her. Her worried father tells her not to go near the horse again. But at night, clad in her pajamas, she sneaks out with a Popsicle, which she soon discovers Soñador likes as much as she does. She pushes the now bare Popsicle stick into the ground. The passage of the nights is thereafter marked by a row of the sticks, growing longer and longer, much to the amusement of the audience (they were with this film all the way, laughing at all the right moments and expressing concern, and at the end breaking out in applause). Cale’s bonding with Soñador is complete when she tries to mount him, and the horse takes off on a wild run that finally comes to a rest, proving that despite his injury, the horse just might be able to get back onto the race track.
Ben and Pop by now are talking and working together. Their plans for Soñador at first center on breeding, but then, as Cale continues to ride him, their sights are raised to a higher, seemingly impossible goal. Director/writer John Gatins has taken the real life story of Mariah’s Storm, winner of the 1995 Turfway Breeders’ Cup, and turned it into a fictional story that virtually every member of the family can enjoy. There is even a social justice touch, in that the Hispanic stable helpers whom Palmer would contemptuously dismiss along with Ben are hired by the latter, becoming important in the effort to nurse and groom Soñador for his come back.
1) We are told that Soñador is Spanish for Dreamer: who is the dreamer in the film? How does Cale’s dream bring her father and grandfather back together?
2) What do you think of the custom of putting down a horse when it breaks a leg? Do you think it is more out of compassion or economics?
3) How does Palmer apparently regard Balon (Luis Guzman) and Manolin (Freddy Rodriguez), “Mexicans” as he calls them? Where do they stand in our society? How does Cale’s dream affect them also?
How tempting do you think Palmer’s offer to buy Soñador is for Ben? How does he show complete trust in Cale and her ability to decide such an important matter? How does the outcome of the film bear out the Psalm’s passage?