Review: Endearing true story 'Dream Horse' bred with care
Courtesy of Bleecker Street
Whether it’s “Seabiscuit” or “Secretariat,” films surrounding horses, or more specifically racing equestrians, are generally safe, efficient crowd pleasers that won’t live in the pathos of masterpiece cinema, but you’ll walk out with a smile. “Dream Horse” fits the bill, an endearing true story about an unlikely syndicate breeding a one-of-a-kind thoroughbred juggernaut and the sense of community which comes from that experience. Inspired by the 2015 documentary “Dark Horse” - a nonfiction narrative too juicy for Hollywood to leave alone - about Jan Vokes (played here by Toni Collette) and her ambitious, doomed-to-fail, plan of convincing an army of local townsfolk to breed a racehorse and pay for its training and shelter through weekly payments, “Dream Horse” is a worthwhile dramatization that’ll translate to a wealthy of audiences across the pond (where the story is legend) and here in the states where the feel good elements should overcome its predictable mechanics.
Directed by Euros Lyn and written by Neil McKay, “Dream Horse” doesn’t so much focus on the eventual racer - named Dream Alliance - but the patrons who pour their heart and soul into fostering a successful syndicate, the group responsible for the horses’ wellbeing. Taking place in Wales, we first meet Collette’s Jan holding down several jobs throughout the community: bartending and restocking shelves at the grocery store. She’s got a variety of pets and the walls are plastered with first place ribbons from a time long past, though she concots an idea of taking the last $300 in her checking account - much to the bemoan of her supportive husband, Brian (played with a smarmy glee by Owen Teale) and purchasing an old mare in the hopes of breeding the next Welsh National champion.
Jan enlists disgruntled tax advisor Howard Davies (Damien Lewis) to help negotiate the terms of the syndicate, who will pool their own funds to help with stud fees and a variety of other pressing bills (funds that are non-refundable if the horse doesn’t catch a big break). Jan, along with Howard and a slew of recognizable British comedians playing common townsfolk chart a path and when their precious mare gives birth to a gorgeous chestnut stallion, “Dream Horse” is off to the races.
What ensues is the standard and obvious rundown of montages from training to the first “big” race, which repeats for a solid portion until “Dream Horse” hits a slew of predictable hurdles and wobbly subplots that don’t get explored, notably Davies’ gambling addiction or the jockeys who mount and race the steeds, but don’t get a silver of mention in the story. Do the horses ride themselves? Such trivial blemishes won’t mull over viewers looking for a way to spend their quiet Saturday afternoon, but it's those minor details that could elevate the picture beyond the limitations of its genre. The occasional slapstick comedy and forced one liners don’t always land their mark, however, it’s absorbing how the film tries casually balancing the adrenaline fueled racing scenes with moments of light-hearted humor.
Witnessing the evolution of Dream Alliance - who got to train with world renowned expert Philip Hobbs (Nicholas Farrell) - is quite striking. As is learning about syndicates and their entire operation which sent this critic down a rabbit hole of information. The statistical odds of a syndicate actually breeding a champion of Dream Alliance’s caliber are less than 1%, so of course an inevitable film on the subject would come to fruition. Minus a few timid and formulaic episodes, “Dream Horse'' gets the job done. It might not get the gold, but it’s a winner in my book.
DREAM HORSE opens in theaters Friday, May 21st.