There is one thoroughbred on the screen in this film and her name is Dakota Fanning.
Ever since her breakthrough performance at the age of six in I am Sam, when she more than held her own with Sean Penn and Michele Pfeiffer, through her appearances with heavyweights from Robert de Niro (Hide and Seek) to Denzel Washington (Man on Fire) to Tom Cruise (War of the Worlds), Fanning has shown herself to be one of the finest actors of any age, with a dazzling combination of poise, sensitivity, and sheer star power.
Utterly natural, utterly sure, utterly in command of her performance, she trusts herself and her material. She never pushes or tries to keep our attention. She barely seems to notice whether she has it; yet we cannot take our eyes off of her.
Fanning plays Cale Crane, the daughter of Ben, a horse trainer (Kurt Russell). When, against Ben’s advice, his bully of a boss (David Morse) insists on racing a horse named Sonador, the horse is badly injured. Ben is fired, and impulsively accepts the horse in lieu of severance pay. He gives the horse to Cale.
Now Ben has no money and a daughter with an expensive horse that may be worthless. His only hope is that she may be able to breed, but it turns out she cannot.
Cale has another dream. She dreams that Sonador will race again, and win.
There are family issues and money issues and of course will-the-leg-heal issues, much of it things we’ve seen before, but Fanning makes it all work because she is so completely and definitively in the moment. When she gets up to speak for Sonador, she can make you believe that no moment like that ever happened before, on or off screen. Now that is breeding.
Fanning is surrounded by a top-quality cast of capable and charismatic performers, with Elisabeth Shue as her mother, Kris Kristofferson as her grandfather, Oded Fehr as a horse-loving prince, Ken Howard as a breeder, and Luiz Guzman and Freddy Rodriguez as Sonador’s trainers. But they wisely step back to let Fanning lap them all.
Parents should know that this movie has some tense situations, including an injury to a horse (and possiblity of humane killing) and confrontations between family members.
Families who see this movie should talk about why Cale believed in her horse when others did not. Why did her grandfather and father have problems getting along with each other? Why did that change? What did Ben learn from Cale’s story? Why is it hard sometimes to tell family members how you feel? They may also want to learn more about the horse that inspired this story. While the part about Cale and her family is fiction, the story of Sonador was inspired by a real horse who came back from a severe leg injury to a series of record-breaking wins that led to a race being named in her honor.