The second Kentucky-set film to reach theaters during the month of October, Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story is a thoroughly pleasant, well-crafted piece of family entertainment.
Dreamer (rated PG for brief mild language) is a DreamWorks release that may as well open with the famous Disney castle, telling the very Disney-fied story of a girl and her horse. And if that suggests that the film may lack a certain complexity and realism, Dreamer is nonetheless as solid a fairy tale as anything produced by the Mouse House.
Dakota Fanning (War of the Worlds) plays Cale Crane, daughter of horse trainer Ben Crane (Kurt Russell). Ben is a skilled trainer whose once grand family farm is fading into disrepair. His losing streak continues until Ben is left with a near-useless horse and no job. Details begin to emerge about Ben's once promising career and his strained relationship with his horse-trainer father (Kris Kristofferson), which is feeding into Ben's somewhat tentative relationship with his own daughter.
Naturally, Cale latches onto the horse and the idea that the only horse in her family's expansive stables can be rehabilitated and run again. The larger story arc provides no surprises-the hope invested in the horse serves as a vehicle for repairing a family really only moderately damaged to begin with. But Dreamer provides a series of small pleasures that, by the end, add up to a surprisingly good film.
One would expect to find some beautiful scenery in Kentucky's horse country, but Fred Murphy's cinematography is particularly stunning. Ms. Fanning proves again why she seems to be first on the list for every adolescent film role in Hollywood, managing a performance both understated and quirky. That understatement is a perfect match for Mr. Russell, who excels in roles as a decent everyman. And director John Gatins moderates the tone of his film to match the low-key strengths of his two stars.
As a side note, it's interesting to see DreamWorks picking up on a post-Passion trend, marketing the film directly to church audiences through a "Family Fun" website that includes "Faith and Values Activities" and a "Religious Study Guide."