“Dream Horse” is a clichéd underdog story which is mildly entertaining while not bringing anything particular new to its genre territory. While we can clearly discern what and how it is about right from the start, the movie did a fairly good job of balancing between humor and drama thanks to the good efforts from its cast and crew members, and you may come to forgive its many predictable moments to some degree.
As told to us at the very beginning, the movie is based on one miraculous real-life story about one seemingly plain thoroughbred owned by a middle-aged Welsh woman named Jan Vokes (Toni Collette) and a group of her accidental business partners, and its early part shows us how things have been gloomy and depressing for her and many others in her little rural Welsh town. Without any recent economic stimulus, the town has become shabbier day by day, and it looks like the only neat thing in the town is a local supermarket where she and other local residents work. Besides that supermarket job, she also works at a local pub, and we do not see much joy or spirit from its few usual customers including an old but colorful drinker.
Having been quite frustrated with how she has been stuck in her drab daily life which has become more barren after her kids left some time ago, Jan comes to have an idea when a local accountant named Howard Davies (Damian Lewis) and his friends come to the pub for drinking during one evening. After hearing about how he and his associates miserably failed to raise a thoroughbred for horse racing, Jan wonders whether she also can do that, and her mind immediately goes for checking whether that is actually possible for her. Although she has no experience in horse breeding, she was an expert breeder in case of other animals at least, and the financial matter can be handled via attracting the interest of several neighbors of hers who are going to chip in their earnings for her modest project along with her.
When she subsequently announces her plan to her husband Brian (Owen Teale), he is merely amused without much belief, but, as a guy who handled horses a lot during his heyday, he is willing to provide some help and support to his wife nonetheless. First, they get a cheap mare which is a bit old but still can be pregnant besides having a fairly good bloodline background, and then they move on to the next step where they have their mare have a mating with some good stallion (That also costs a lot, of course).
Meanwhile, Jan tries to gather an enough number of local investors to help her raise and train the horse to be born. Although she seems to get much attention from others at first, several neighbors of hers besides Howard eventually come to the evening meeting held by her and her husband, and they are all willing to spend some money to that horse, while fully aware that they go for dream and passion instead of profit.
Once that horse, who is subsequently named Dream Alliance, is eventually born, everything goes well for Jan and her associates. Although it is just a little adorable animal at first, it shows more potentials as it grows bigger and faster during next several years, and Jan and her associates also get a big help from a well-known horse trainer who was skeptical at first but soon senses what an excellent racehorse Dream Alliance can be.
Now many of you have already guessed the rest of the story, and the screenplay by Neil McKay duly hops from one expected moment to another without much surprise. For example, Dream Alliance certainly impresses everyone during its first horse race, and it becomes more promising via a series of horse races, but of course, there will a big setback which will lead to some dramatic conflict among Jan and several other characters around her. In case of the subplot involved with a little personal conflict between Howard and his understandably concerned wife, its eventual resolution is trite and contrived, and the same thing can be said about Jan’s strained relationship with her estranged father, who looks disinterested all the time but, this is not much of a spoiler, does care a lot about her ongoing passion project.
Anyway, the movie is breezy and enjoyable as demanded during those horse racing scenes, and cinematographer Erik Wilson vividly captures the thrill and excitement of horse racing on the screen during these good scenes. Although I am a nerdy guy who is not so interested in outdoor activities, the movie gives me some understanding on why many people enjoy watching horse racing, and I even considered going to a racetrack someday, though I am still averse to betting on any horse.
The main cast members are as fun and engaging as you can expect from them. While Toni Collette, a wonderful Australian actress who has seldom disappointed us since her breakthrough performance in “Muriel’s Wedding” (1994), is dependable as usual, Damian Lewis and Owen Teale are solid as duly standing by her, and I also enjoyed a number of colorful supporting performers in the film, who surely bring some life and personality to their respective roles.
In conclusion, director Euros Lyn gives us a competent feel-good movie, but I am still hesitating to recommend “Dream Horse” mainly because I observed its predictable narrative and rather broad characterization from the distance when I watched it at last night. I wish it were more distinctive in terms of story and characters, but I will not stop you from watching it if you have some free time to kill.