In the sports world, the Green Bay Packers get a lot of attention for being fan-owned, as the NFL team has been possessed by shareholders for nearly an entire century. The Packers may be the only community owned organization in American professional sports, but worldwide, the practice is fairly common, especially among football clubs (the type of football that Americans refer to as soccer). A textbook example occurred in the early part of the twenty-first century when a group of British villagers pooled their money and bought a racehorse. Their unlikely story is told in Dark Horse.
Through first-person interviews, archival footage, and dramatic reenactments, Dark Horse recounts the events that transpired in 2001 that led to twenty three people in South Wales each chipping in ten pounds a week to feed, board, and train a thoroughbred which they named, appropriately enough, Dream Alliance. The group, who called itself The Syndicate, watched their horse go from lovable loser to formidable competitor, weathering bad races and terrible injuries until he finally became a fierce on-track contender.
Dream Alliance’s story is a compelling one, but Dark Horse comes off as a little too drab and dull to really do it justice. Director Louise Osmond (Deep Water) puts together a pretty straight-forward documentary, and that’s part of the problem; a little bit of dramatic emphasis here and there may have been able to sell the saga a little better than the film’s standard, by-the-numbers approach. Dark Horse does a fine job of presenting the events, but does nothing to get the viewer fully invested. When Dream Alliance is treated with a controversial stem cell procedure that allows him to come back from a catastrophic injury to take first place at the Welsh National, the audience should be on its feet cheering. It’s not. Dark Horse is all facts and very little, if any, emotion.
Ultimately, Dream Alliance didn’t have the same long and storied career as the Green Bay Packers did (and do), but he did win some races, and he also came back from a devastating injury to do it. Is the story movie-worthy? Yes. Is Dark Horse the right movie to tell it? Maybe not. But it does tell it, in a very analytical, monotone way, straight from the horse’s mouth, you might say. Not bad, but not great. Just average…kind of like Dream Alliance’s racing career.