Though it’s as corny as the horseshoe socks that one of its characters wears to the big event, “Dream Horse” delivers a winning dose of uplift as its underdog protagonists, nice folks all, raise a successful racehorse.
Directed by Euros Lyn, who is known for TV work (“Happy Valley,” “Dr. Who”), and written by Neil McKay, the film, which opens Friday, dramatizes the story of 2001-born Dream Alliance, the unlikely champion who was bred by locals in a working-class former mining village in Wales. The horse’s legacy includes a remarkable post-accident comeback.
Toni Colette plays Jan Vokes, who, when not working as a grocery clerk in the morning or a bartender at night, is taking care of her aging parents or spending time with her dog, geese, and telly-watching husband, Brian (Owen Teale), at home.
With her children having grown up and moved out Jan wants to do something meaningful. Inspired by a conversation with pub patron Howard Davies (Damian Lewis), who has experience with horse racing, she decides to raise a racehorse. She forms a syndicate whose members number nearly two dozen — herself, Brian, Howard and lots of eccentric villagers. The members will share in the profits and in the costs of the endeavor.
Jan buys a mare and mates the animal with a stallion, and the group names the chestnut foal Dream Alliance. When Dream Alliance is old enough, highly regarded horse trainer Philip Hobbs (Nicholas Farrell) takes him on. Dream Alliance enters the racing circuit and performs impressively at increasingly prestigious venues.
After an accident nearly ends not only his career but his life, the horse undergoes treatment and hits the comeback trail. It culminates at the 2009 Welsh Grand National. Is it safe for Dream Alliance to race again? Jan worries. For Jan, the horse isn’t about making money. He means something much deeper.
Even if you’re not familiar with the Dream Alliance story, you can tell where the movie is headed. It contains a sports-movie formula (training montages, successes, setbacks, the big match), and a “Full Monty”-like story, in which depressed characters regain their spark by working together on a seemingly crazy project.
Less winning are a non-compelling subplot involving Howard, his wife, Angela (Joanna Page), and Howard’s past horse-related gambling problem.
More uninspiring still are the movie’s one-dimensionally defined supporting characters, each with a designated quirk. The town drunk is particularly unamusing. Viewers with a low tolerance for corniness should be warned.
Additionally, the movie fails to consider the role of jockeys in the welfare of Dream Alliance and doesn’t touch on the presence of animal abuse in British horse racing.
Yet the movie still abounds with positive spirit and has genuine emotion. The racing material is adeptly edited, and scenes in which elite horse owners regard the villagers like unqualified bumpkins only to watch them prove to have the superior horse are undeniably appealing.
Collette, who is Australian but fits right in with her Welsh costars, plays both a sports-movie-style coach and a woman realizing her potential, and she shines.
The culturally, patriotically and joyfully Welsh quality of the movie, with its betting shops, pub camaraderie, and musical numbers, is memorable; a group rendition of “Delilah” made famous by Tom Jones is particularly nice.
Starring: Toni Collette, Damian Lewis, Owen Teale, Nicholas Farrell
Directed by: Euros Lyn
Written by: Neil McKay
Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Opening Friday, “Final Account” introduces now-elderly Germans and Austrians who, in roles ranging from Hitler Youth members to bookkeepers to SS officers, assisted the Nazi regime. They describe their past and discuss how, decades later, they view it.
British director Luke Holland spent the final 12 years of his life making the documentary, filming conversations with functionaries who served Hitler’s death apparatus.
While one or two interviewees praise Hitler outright and another one or two express genuine remorse for their actions of about 80 years ago, most, while acknowledging that the Nazis committed heinous acts, don’t consider themselves guilty.
Holland’s subjects speak for themselves, and it’s plenty evident that denial is going on. Most say they were not complicit in the Nazi horror that took the lives of 6 million Jews. “As a bookkeeper, I had nothing to do with it,” one says.
Stories involve everything from anti-Semitic books to the terror of Kristallnacht.
A man recalls watching a synagogue burn while the fire brigade did nothing.
Former Hitler youth-group members deny that the experience converted them into mini hard-core Nazis. They liked the uniforms and the singing, several recall.
In a particularly disturbing passage, Karl Hollander, a former SS man, shows Holland his Nazi medals. While he admires Hitler, Hollander says he believes that the Nazis should have driven the Jews out of their homeland rather than murder them.
On the flip side, Hans Wierk, another former SS member, expresses shame for belonging to the murderous organization. “Do not let yourself be blinded,” he emotionally tells a young man who has criticized him for regretting his past.
Few accounts in the film are extraordinary. But combined, they form a substantial document of the more mundane aspects of Nazi operations and of the human denial mechanism at work. The film also illustrates how everyday innocents can become perpetrators and how anti-Semitism continues to persist.
Additionally, it inspires self-reflection. What would you have done had you been in these people’s shoes?
Directed by: Luke Holland
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes