by George Wolf
Man, how great were those NBA finals? Can you believe Cleveland really did it? If you’re still as inspired by their comeback as I am, I’ve got an idea. Let’s get a group of friends together, pool our money, and buy a minor league team!
Crazy as it seems, that plan is not far from the one at the heart of Dark Horse, a captivating documentary that follows a group of racing enthusiasts in the U.K. In the early 2000s, Welsh barmaid Janet Vokes organized some customers and friends from the “working men’s club” where she worked, and the group bred their very own race horse.
Director Louise Osmond is gifted with the very definition of a feel good tale, and she doesn’t squander the chance to present it in stand-up-and-cheer fashion.
As the group of working stiffs crashes the upper-crust owners boxes at the track, their horse, named Dream Alliance, starts winning, and suddenly Janet and her crew are hometown celebrities.
Osmond flexes sharp instincts for keeping cliche to a minimum while finding universal emotion in this underdog journey. What starts as a let’s-see-what-happens gambit becomes a vessel for “common folk” to find meaning in their lives and contentment in their legacies. As members of the owners group (dubbed “the Syndicate”) start to open up about what the entire experience has meant to them, it becomes truly touching.
Mixing charming first-person interviews, dramatic archival footage and nifty re-creations, Osmond keeps the pace engaging, switching gears before any particular segment shows signs of fatigue. Anyone who doesn’t already know how the Dream Alliance saga turns out will find themselves wide-eyed when Jan and her fellow owners are suddenly faced with a tough choice regarding their horse’s health.
Sports could use more owners like the Syndicate, and more docs like Dark Horse.