Formulaic Underdogs: Our Review of ‘Dark Horse’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - May 20, 2016
Formulaic Underdogs: Our Review of ‘Dark Horse’

Dark Horse does away with any attempts to be cunning in its opening few minutes, as a man reflects upon a memorable day, after much work and hope, when he met with immeasurable happiness and success.

This documentary from Louise Osmond stresses at every possible junction what is already an underdog story, telling the story of a local barmaid and the small Welsh town called Blackwood  that worked together to infiltrate the elitism of horse racing, breeding, training, and competing their own horse, Dream Alliance.

With some experience, little money, and certainly not the wealthy status and prestige that permeate through horse racing – notoriously an upper class endeavor – the 23 people form a group that owns the horse, working together in a positive, lovely way that borders on cute and folksy. Interviews offer charming recollections along the way, and the film ends up resting on its characters to stay interesting. The likable collection of townspeople is easy to root for, particularly Janet Vokes, the woman at the heart of the tale. Dream Alliance, the horse that would be king, is especially captivating too, but that may be more because he’s an animal on screen than anything especially noteworthy.


Yet somehow, Dark Horse is both remarkable and simple. It’s a truly unbelievable story in sports where the big names, big money, and big machines somehow failed to win, instead usurped by plucky, overachieving upstarts, and yet, it’s feels so commonplace. It’s a story often told in the general (David v. Goliath), though compelling in the specific (Dream Alliance v. Everyone Else). It’s almost too familiar because so many such sports stories end up being told through film, or what’s more, are simply better experienced in the moment.

Knowing the outcome of a story is never something that has to diminish a story, but in this case the film can’t overcome its desire to feed into a formula that has been done over and over in film. The score swells, the camera looks up, the video slows, and voice-overs come heavy with emotion and passion, and all of that is superfluous – just let the tale be told on its own merit. It’s a wonderful story, and an utterly familiar, hum-drum film.

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