Directed By Euros Lyn
Starring – Toni Collette, Damian Lewis, Owen Teale
The Plot – The film tells the inspiring true story of Dream Alliance, an unlikely race horse bred by small town Welsh bartender, Jan Vokes (Collette). With very little money and no experience, Jan convinces her neighbors to chip in their meager earnings to help raise Dream in the hopes he can compete with the racing elites. The group’s investment pays off as Dream rises through the ranks with grit and determination and goes on to race in the Welsh Grand National showing the heart of a true champion.
Rated PG for adult language and thematic elements
– Bountiful personality. Without question, the highlight of the film for me, and one that supplants it with an abundance of nourishing heart is the sense of community within the setting and characterization that breed importance within the context of the many subplots it is continuously juggling. This is most evident with the supporting characters, whom in a lesser movie wouldn’t receive a line of dialogue nor a distinguishable characteristic to make any of them stand out in a line-up. For this film, each of them are realized with a depth and unabashed focus that pleasantly supplants this as an ensemble piece, which in turn further plays into the small town surroundings where everyone knows everyone, and opportunity doesn’t knock as often or as loudly as it rightfully should. It pertains to the sense of comfort cinema that we unfortunately don’t get enough of, immersing us for nearly two hours in a foreign setting with a real sense of pride and culture to stitch into the fabric of its cinematic rendering.
– Balanced cinematography. The visuals for the film are approached in a way that are richly ambitious and beautiful for totally different reasons of sequencing. On the latter is the film’s presentation, blanketing us with a subtle sunbaked lens flare that envelopes the film in a golden hue continuously, giving us a soft serenity that works terrifically with the majestic ambiance of these gentle creatures. In addition to this, the racing sequences themselves ramp up the tension with a collection of various angles, high and low, near and far, that offer many contrasting views to the sport, all the while maintaining a continuity for urgency in the heat of the moment that envelopes enough speed and physicality for the appeal of its direction. It makes for a radiant style that only period pieces attain with a particular sense of visual personality, but plays into the class and sophistication that these hillbilly characters now find themselves in with a life-changing investment.
– Tonal balance. It’s pivotal in a sports biopic for there to be compelling drama, but without the therapeutic moments of levity there to coerce the audience into breathing after tense sequences, they would be redundantly bland in their execution. This is what “Dream Horse” does particularly well, maintaining a light-hearted personality that is every bit charming as it is beneficial to the appeal of its characters. There’s certainly moments of low brow material being played off by characters who approach senility with a fiery flare, but everything feels par for the course within the boundaries of this intimate village living life constantly by their own rules, and refusing to shape themselves for the delight of how other outsiders unfairly view them. It made for several moments of release that I greatly cherished, especially considering it works wonderfully with the dramatic elements without its persistence taking away from the effectiveness of the material, giving us an experience, like life, that is full of ups and downs that illustrate life’s many spontaneities along the way.
– Intoxicating visuals. Being myself a descendent of Irish culture, complete with eye-opening cultural differences, I took pleasure in the movie’s commitment to immersing us within the sights and sounds of an environment so isolated from life’s many unnecessary distractions. Because of such, we are not only treated to spell-binding wide angle shots of the many endless fields of green that corner the town’s intimate village, but also a beneficial focus towards the architecture and peaceful tranquility that vividly cements the authenticity within a film shot on location. It attains a three-dimensional quality to the film’s setting that prescribe proof for the pudding in the many colorful characters that stem from such a place, attaining a non-human character quality for the film that we’re constantly reminded of with various flashbacks during scenes when our main cast are far outside its hay bail walls and roaming horses in its various streets.
– Whimsical score. Much of the work from musical composer Benjamin Woodgates flourishes with swelling emphasis from the inspirational resonation that pounds its way into elevating the stakes of the movie’s racing sequences. When not enriched in the heat of the physical conflict, Woodgates turns down the volume, and instead engages us with a harmonium and a series of carefully selected tracks to signify a collective mood within the town’s initially mundane setting. When we open the film with Jan’s dawn-rising daily routine, the somber registry conveys a sense of soft longing for the lone character awake while the rest of the village rests. This not only gives us a wordless glimpse within the mind of our central protagonist, but also plays coherently pleasant with dark and moody visuals that we’re initially introduced to the place with, proving that no scale of emotions is too big or small for the mighty Benjamin and the unorthodox instruments that he uses in cementing a distinct personality for the movie’s audible identity.
– Technical prowess. This was with the film’s rampant sound mixing, which articulated weight and an overriding impact in contrast to the rile of the crowd, which is usually the primary audible focus in inspirational films like these. This keeps the focus and the tension of the sequence where it firmly belongs, entrancing us with thunderous sound that only further elevates the speed portrayed in the framing of the movie’s tight-knit framing between rival horses. It’s overwhelming for all of the right reasons, deviating between the many angles that the film’s cinematography uses to construct the consistency of its sequencing, elevating and devolving with the kind of unprompted deviation that is made all the more impressive when you consider the audible tug of war taking shape between many angles of depiction that are each conveying the same consistency, albeit from entirely different proximities in the context of the moment.
– Delightful cast. Toni Collette should be universally praised by this point as being one of Hollywood’s most gifted actresses who can fruitfully become any character she attempts before our very eyes. While not her most emotionally complex or physically demanding performance of her remarkable career, there’s a nuance to her approach to Jan that makes her feel unique among the many personalities that Collette has attempted, giving her a lived-in quality to the character that vividly brings her to life despite the fact that Collette and the real life Jan look nothing alike in visual likeness. This is especially the case with a Welsh accent that Toni continuously delivers faithfully believable throughout, which further plays to the level of transformation that slowly disperses her before our very eyes. In addition to Collette, I was most intrigued with the work of Damien Lewis, who gives another foundational turn as one of the movie’s more focused characters, cementing an internal conflict that plays heavily into his depreciating but still inspirational circumstance towards the sport in general. Owen Teale is also up for the challenge of stealing as many scenes away from Collette as possible, stealing our hearts with a quiet charm and effervescent charisma that brings forth all of the character’s best qualities as the primary inspiration behind Jan’s ambitiously unrealistic goals.
– Inescapable reality. Even despite the many positives that the movie has going for it, there’s a dawning feeling by the film’s end that makes this another conventional offering in an overstuffed sports biopic genre that seem to collectively follow the same set of rules. This not only classifies “Dream Horse” with an unflattering layer of predictability that saunters away its momentary suspense, but also feels a bit too squeaky clean in the faithfulness of the story, especially learning as much as I did about the real life story in my lead-up to my watch of the film. Much of the meat of the material, especially the things that further play into the conflict of the characters, are glossed over or omitted all together from the finished product, leaving very little uncertainties to play against a two minute trailer for the film that is easily telegraphed, regardless of how much you may or may not know about the real life story behind the movie.
– Limited appeal. As to where sports biopics are aimed at a cross-audience appeal in marketing the sport to an entirely different demographic, there’s a lack of grasp in the concepts that is sure to keep horse racing as a sport for mostly rich people who overlook the abusive elements of its ingredients. For starters, the script’s lack of addressing an introduction to horse racing highlights this inescapable emphasis that proves this movie was catered to said specific audience. There’s nothing wrong with that ideally, but I’ve always believed that any movie can equally engage a new audience with introductions, while maintaining focus for those experienced with the sport. Unfortunately, this is a very paint by numbers and momentarily manipulative experience that sacrifices originality for safety in numbers, and because of such becomes another in the hoard of overflowing sports biopics whose material undercuts the layer of accessibility that movies require in a universal appeal.
– Unexplored promise. Most of my problem with the screenplay were a couple areas of promoted drama and the intrigue of a character study that the film never fully commits to. Part of this could be blamed on the 108 minute run time, which does initially feel like it’s pushing along the very pivotally gravitational moments of the script, rushing the pacing in a way that is noticeably abrupt to the first act when compared to the other two, but for my money it’s the missing context for subplots that are mentioned then never alleviated towards. Such an instance is within the supposed connection between Jan and Dream that is made all the more complicated by a second act distancing between the two, immediately cutting in on the connection that the two needed to sell such a sentimentality. In addition to this, there are a couple of conflicts that show its cards to early to develop naturally, but then mysteriously left behind to the point that it doesn’t materialize into something purposeful. If the film had no desire to follow through with its execution, why even include it to the narrative? Filtered sloppiness.
My Grade: 7/10 or B-