Movie Review: Sony Pictures Classics' Dark Horse

Directed by: Louise Osmond
Release Date: 5/20 @ Sundance Cinemas Houston
MPAA Rating: PG
Runtime: 85 mins
Set in a former mining village in Wales, DARK HORSE is the inspirational true story of a group of friends from a working men's club who decide to take on the elite 'sport of kings' and breed themselves a racehorse. Raised on a slagheap allotment, their foal grows into an unlikely champion, beating the finest thoroughbreds in the land, before suffering a near fatal accident. Nursed back to health by the love of his owners - for whom he's become a source of inspiration and hope - he makes a remarkable recovery, returning to the track for a heart-stopping comeback.

I didn’t know that Dark Horse was a documentary.  It’s my fault.  I should read my materials closer.  Not that it matters.  It’s just that documentaries are few and far between for me.  I was drawn to the picture of a horse on the movie poster.  I'm glad the movie poster got my attention. Dark Horse was a great documentary.  It is the kind of movie that makes me love screening movies.  I have to see a lot of stones to find the gems.  Dark Horse is definitely one of the rare gems that I was glad I stumbled upon. 

Dark Horse documents the story of a bunch of underdogs.  The subjects of the story, the Vokes and the Davies, are an entirely charming group of people that, for every indication, did not belong in the regal sport of horse racing.  I loved the unassuming, self-deprecating nature of the dialogue.  Sometimes, the talk was funny.  At one point Mr. Vokes made reference to the fact that his teeth were in a jar, instead of his mouth.  Sometimes, the talk was frank and a bit painful.  Mrs. Vokes made mention of the unpleasant looks she received from professional horse breeders and racers.  Whether it was light or heavy, the dialogue was real.  I appreciated that the subjects of the film wore the their perceived position in the community as a badge of honor.

The film felt like it started a bit slow.  In the moment, I remember I wanted to see the horse run.  By the end, I appreciated the pace of the film.  It has the same build-up that I imagine the sport of horse racing to have.  Most of horse racing seems like background.  It takes a long time for the horses to prepare to run a few laps around a track.  I only learned that from watching the movie.  The subjects of the film worked for years and faced obstacles in the hopes that they would achieve their dream.

The race footage looked great on the big screen.  These are not horse races that I would have known anything about before the film, so I was engaged in the outcome of each. I would have appreciated even more race footage, but Dark Horse isn’t only about horses or races, it’s about people and events.  It is in the people and the events that the audience finds the film’s relatability.  It is also what raised this movie from just good to genuinely enjoyable.

I enjoyed the positive message of the film.  It’s never a bad thing to see people willing to tackle adversity in order to achieve a dream.  The bigger the dream, the harder the work.  That’s the very nature of dreams.  I think the message is great for families.  There isn’t a single four letter word or off-color comment in the whole ninety minutes.  Sports families will especially enjoy the “never quit” message.  I brought my own children to the screening, and they loved it.  You will have to seek it out, if you want to catch it in theaters.  Dark Horse is in limited release now.  It opens nationally on May 20.

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