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This is the story of Sonora Webster, a teenage runaway during the Depression. Her life's ambition is to travel to Atlantic City, where "all your dreams come true." After leaving home she accepts a job from Dr. Carver and his girl-and-horse high diving act. Starting out as a stable hand her goal is to become a real diving girl. Dr. Carver's son, Al, helps her in her quest by helping her tame a wild horse she's named Lightning. Their early morning practices lead not only to Sonora being put into training as a diving girl, but also for Al's emotions for Sonora to begin to surface. Al leaves after an argument with his father and the diver girl, Marie, is injured in a practice. Sonora finally takes her place and becomes a real diving girl. The act is thriving but fairgrounds are suffering hard times and the show is closed. Al comes back with the surprise revelation of getting the act booked in Atlantic City. Dr. Carver passes away en route to New Jersey and Al takes over. He asks Sonora to... Written by
Should Be Required Viewing for All "Professional" Athletes
Based on a true story, this film is not only entertaining, but as inspirational as they come; a paean to the indomitability of the human spirit in the face of the kind of adversity that would make most of us simply roll over and quit. It's the story of the kind of challenges life can throw at anyone at random, and then follow up with yet another curve that seemingly takes it beyond the limits of human endurance. It's a film that should be required viewing for anyone who has ever cried out that the world owes them a living, because the message of `Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken,' directed by Steve Miner, is that `Life' isn't fair, but when the worst happens you have to pick yourself up by the bootstraps and get on with it; nobody's going to do it for you. It has something to do with a little thing called `pride,' and everything to do with the courage and tenacity it takes for someone to at least try to stand up when even the very hand of Fate seems bent on keeping them down. There's a very definite lesson to be learned from this story; a lesson of which many living in the world today would be well advised to take note.
In 1932, the Great Depression is on, but times are even more trying for teenager Sonora Webster (Gabrielle Anwar), who after losing her parents is taken in by her aunt, only to be told that because of financial difficulties besetting her own family, Sonora must be given over to the state. Undaunted, the head-strong Sonora, even at such a tender age takes it upon herself to set the course of her own life. She packs a bag and runs off to answer an ad placed in the newspaper by a certain Doctor Carver (Cliff Robertson), a showman looking for able young ladies to train as `diving girls' for his show.
As part of a traveling circus, Doctor Carver currently has only one diving girl, Marie (Kathleen York); the act entails diving a horse off a forty foot tower into a pool of water. Carver is skeptical that the young Sonora can do it, but she is adamant and refuses to leave until he gives her a chance. And so he does; Carver hires her, but as a stable hand. What he doesn't know is that he's just hired a girl who refuses to give up on something once she's set her mind to it, and when Sonora takes the job, it puts a hay fork in her hand, but her determined eye is on a horse, as well as that forty foot tower looming above that pool of water, beckoning to her, even as a dream borne on the wings of desire. And in her heart, Sonora knows that it won't be long before she's up there, herself. Up on the top of the world.
Working from a screenplay by Matt Williams and Oley Sassone, Miner delivers a poignant film that works at the heart strings, but at the same time circumvents any undo sentimentality. In light of the tragedy that befalls Sonora, this film could easily have played on sympathy and portrayed her as a victim of happenstance. But to be known as a victim would have been the last thing in the world the real Sonora Webster would have wanted; indeed, she took the lemons life handed her and made the proverbial lemonade, refusing to be a `victim' in any sense of the word. And that is the Sonora that Miner presents here, as he emphasizes the positive aspects of her life and what she accomplished, rather than dwelling upon the negative. It's a story of pluck and determination, the message of which is delivered in a straightforward manner by Miner, without resorting to any superfluous action or melodrama to sell it. This is a story that the filmmakers were wise enough to recognize would stand on it's own, without any attempt at dramatic enhancement. They have taken some license as far as certain dates and specific lengths of time involved, and certain elements are compacted in order to move the story along; but the important thing is, the essential elements of Sonora's life and her incredible achievements are portrayed accurately.
Young Gabrielle Anwar gives a performance in which she perfectly captures Sonora's spirit and the stubbornness that refused to allow her to give in to any and all of the obstacles life put in her path. Through Anwar's portrayal, we see a girl who overcomes the most heartbreaking situations by always looking forward; a true individual who always sees the glass as half full rather than half empty, and it's Anwar who makes that vital connection with the audience happen. It's a solid performance, worthy of the character she so ably brings to the screen.
Cliff Robertson gives a memorable performance, as well, as Doctor Carver. He affects an outwardly ostentatious look and attitude that marks him as a true showman-- he looks like Buffalo Bill in full regalia-- but he indicates an individual of some complexity residing beneath it all. And there is a reserve to his performance that contradicts his appearance and effectively points up that intricacy of his nature. Most importantly, Robertson is convincing, and it makes the flamboyant Doctor Carver very real.
The one weakness of the film is in the performance of Michael Schoeffling as Al, Doctor Carver's son. He has the chiseled features of a GQ model, and though his portrayal is passable, it lacks the depth that would've made it a bit more believable. He comes across as something of a `wooden' Matt Dillon, and while his performance does not necessarily detract from the film, neither does it add anything. It's a minor consideration, though, that `Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken' manages to transcend quite effectively. In the end, this film is a thoroughly satisfying and emotional experience. 9/10.
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