DREAMER: INSPIRED BY A TRUE STORY (John Gatins). 98 minutes. Opens Friday (October 21). For venues and times, see Movies, page 102. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
This warm family pic is pure cornball fantasy, but it's well executed and stars one of the most wholesome, likeable acting ensembles around. The preternaturally wise Dakota Fanning plays Cale, a tenacious Kentucky girl whose single-minded obsession with a once-injured mare helps mend the wounds in her family, which includes her waitress mom ( Elisabeth Shue in a thankless role), who's growing distant from horse trainer hubby Kurt Russell , who in turn is estranged from his grizzled horse-lover dad ( Kris Kristofferson ).
Debuting director John Gatins (he's written screenplays like this year's Coach Carter) doesn't skimp on the equine details. We learn plenty about breeding, purses and claims. Gatins knows how to raise a story's stakes and suspense, and gets fine work from the actors, who thankfully don't even attempt country accents.
Fanning, the best child actor since Jodie Foster or at least Haley Joel Osment, achieves naturalism through understatement. And Russell, ignoring the rule that you shouldn't act with kids or animals, brings a rugged grace and subtlety to a role that, thank god, didn't go to Kevin Costner.