Year Released: 2005
Directed by: John Gatins
Starring: Kurt Russell, Dakota Fanning, Kris Kristofferson, Elisabeth Shue, Luis Guzman, Freddy Rodriguez, Oded Fehr
(PG, 98 min.)
"The greatest risk in life is not risking." Anonymous
Sometimes it takes a four-legged creature to remind us what it means to be human, to pursue our dreams and to reconnect to those who never stopped loving us. You’ll find something for all ages in this timeless tale of a crippled racehorse and how she heals a family that is, in a sense, as broken down as she is.
The vacant barn says it all. The only horse farm in Lexington, Kentucky, without any horses, as Cale Crane (Dakota Fanning) tells us at the film’s opening. Her dad’s dream of breeding a stable full of winners is now as empty as the unused stalls in the forlorn building. He has sold off what land he can and pays the bills by training for others, those who see horses as vehicles to money and power and not much else.
They don’t talk to them the way Ben Crane does, feel their legs for tell tale signs of heat and stress before each race, or decide to pull an entry that seems too risky if it means losing face or money. No matter what Crane says, Palmer, his calculating employer, is not about to scratch the favored mare from her race, especially since his Arab backer has flown 8000 miles just to watch her run. When she falls and breaks her leg, he takes no responsibility and tells the vet to put down what he sees merely as a business loss.
We begin to understand why Ben is a better trainer than businessman when he reminds his boss about the bad decision, gets himself and his small crew sacked, and forgoes three-thousand dollars in back pay to save the horse from being put down in front of Cale, whom he has brought with him. They somehow get the mare, Sonador, in a trailer and arrive at the family farm in the midst of a rainstorm. Ben remembers his father, Pop Crane, once rigged up a harness to mend a similar break, and sends for him.
If we are anticipating the arrival of a wizened miracle-working horse whisperer upon the scene, we are sorely disappointed in the arrival of curmudgeon Pop Crane (Kris Kristofferson) who limps into the soggy barn to abruptly declare that the mare should be put down. It seems his heart is as bankrupt as the family fortunes and his hopes are all bad checks.
There is definitely some bad blood between the father and son, and perhaps it is only to spite his dad that Ben with the help of his assistants, Balon (Luis Guzman) and Manolin (Freddy Rodriguez) engineers the harness he remembers from his boyhood. If the mare can heal, they can breed her and perhaps save the farm from foreclosure. His loving wife Lily (Elisabeth Shue) is willing to work down at the diner to keep the family afloat in the meantime.
Against her father’s wishes, which caution that Sonador is a business venture and not a pet, Cale sneaks out of her room each night and befriends the ailing mare by feeding it popsicles. Even gruff Ben’s heart begins to soften as the mare gains strength, but hope is all too soon dashed when the vet declares her infertile. Then, in a moment of despair, he tells Lily that if Cale hadn’t been with him that night, he wouldn’t have tried to save the mare. And today, he would still have a job. Cale overhears and is, of course, crushed.
But at their lowest point, when Ben scorns the money his dad tries to lend him as too little too late, when he distances himself from Cale just when she needs him most, Sonador shakes up the picture. What else to do, Cale decides, but to fill her backpack with snickers and tootsie rolls, and run away from home with Sonador. With the little tyke in the saddle, the mare suddenly remembers she’s a racehorse, and takes off in a mad dash. Now Ben’s fatherly instincts are awakened and he rushes to save his daughter. And in addition, he begins to save himself.
Maybe Sonador can still run and be like the magic horse that Cale writes about in school, the one who carries a king to the top of a mountain where he finds his lost kingdom restored. Can “Dreamer” as her name means in Spanish, also carry an injured jockey who has lost his nerve, and a weary old man who has lost his faith?
Why, of course, says Cale, who never doubts her Father’s love, even when he is most unlovable? With perfect child logic she reasons, “She has to win. She owes you. You saved her life.”
With the likes of lesser actors this horse saga is sweet but predictable fare. But the interplay between Father and daughter inserts a deeper dimension. And all the warnings about never acting beside an animal are wasted on Dakota Fanning, who somehow has captured a role written for a boy, and then gone on to steal the lead from its title character.
Dreamer is not so much a horse story where the actors are props for appealing equine stars; instead it is more the reverse, where we listen to the thundering hooves on the track, but are really watching the anxious faces cheering in the stands.
When Cale visits her mother at the diner, where she has taken up employment to help save the family farm, she is delighted. What a tremendous job, she exclaims in between bites of a scrumptious cream pie, where you can get all the dessert you want for free.
That’s the wonderful thing about Cale, and if I’m to believe what I’ve read, it is equally true of Dakota Fanning, the terrific tour de force playing her in Dreamer. She has this marvelous ability to see the silver lining. It’s not, oh how horrible that my mom is reduced to slaving away at the local diner just to make ends meet. Instead, she marvels at the pies.
Perhaps this is one reason we parents put up with sleepless nights, runny noses, and all those PTA meetings. For our children can give new vision to even the most jaundiced eyes, finding inspiration in an injured horse, and a moment of ecstasy in a piece of cream pie.
The caramel drizzles on the banana cream pie recipe that follows take this diner dessert into the realms of heaven.
Banana Cream Pie with Caramel Drizzles
- 1 Banana Pie Crust (recipe follows)
- 3 C. heavy cream, in all
- 1 small vanilla bean, split and scraped
- 1 T. unsalted butter
- 3/4 C. cornstarch
- 2 1/2 C. sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 5 large egg yolks
- 4 ripe bananas
- 3/4 C. Caramel Drizzle Sauce (recipe follows)
- 2 C. heavy cream, whipped with 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 2 teaspoons sugar
- Shaved chocolate
Prepare the Banana Pie Crust, and allow it to cool completely.
Heat 2 cups of the cream in a large saucepan over high heat. Stir in the paste scraped from inside the vanilla bean, and the butter, and bring to a simmer.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the remaining 1 cup cream with the cornstarch and stir until thoroughly blended and smooth. When the mixture in the saucepan begins to boil, stream in the cream/cornstarch mixture, whisking constantly until all is thoroughly incorporated. Remove from heat.
In a bowl, combine the sugar and salt, and whisk this dry mixture vigorously into the saucepan until the cream is thick and the dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Over low heat, whisk in the egg yolks one at a time. Remove from the heat and whisk the pastry cream until smooth and creamy.
Peel the bananas and cut them crosswise into 1/4-inch slices. Spread about 1/3 of the pastry cream in the pie crust, and arrange 1/2 of the banana slices over the cream. Spread on another 1/3 of the pastry cream, and arrange the remaining banana slices over that. Cover with the remaining pastry cream, and smooth out the top. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until firm.
About 20 minutes before serving, prepare the Caramel Drizzle Sauce.
To serve, cut the pie into wedges and drizzle on the warm Caramel Drizzle Sauce. Top with whipped cream and shaved chocolate. Serves about 10.
Banana Pie Crust
- 2 C. graham cracker crumbs
- 1/4 C. light brown sugar
- 8 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 very ripe banana, mashed
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
In a bowl, cream the ingredients together with your hands. Press the mixture into a 10-inch pie pan, and bake until brown, for about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool completely before filling. Makes one 10-inch pie crust.
Recipe Source: That’s My Home