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Originally published Friday, February 16, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

"Opal Dream" | Real-world troubles and imaginary friends

Some movies are just better experiences if you've got a kid watching them with you, and "Opal Dream" is one. What starts as a...

Special to The Seattle Times

Some movies are just better experiences if you've got a kid watching them with you, and "Opal Dream" is one.

What starts as a dreary, kitchen-sink and somewhat weird drama about a poor family struggling in the opal mining community of Coober Pedy, Australia, becomes a sweet fantasy about the power of dreams.

Perhaps too sweet, though, which is why it's helpful to watch "Opal Dream" with a full-of-wonder girl or boy. The story concerns Rex Williamson (Vince Colosimo), father of two and a man staking his family's survival on hopes that his incessant mining for opals will pay off.

Movie review 2.5 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"Opal Dream," with Vince Colosimo, Jacqueline McKenzie, Sapphire Boyce, Christian Byers. Directed by Peter Cattaneo, from a screenplay by Cattaneo, Ben Rice and Phil Traill, based on Rice's novel "Pobby and Dingan." 85 minutes. Rated PG for mild violence. Northwest Film Forum.

In the meantime, his wife (Jacqueline McKenzie) keeps food on the table with her part-time cashier's job, and son Ashmol (Christian Byers) rides a bike in solitude. He and his parents alternately humor and try to contain the odd claims of Ashmol's ailing younger sister, Kellyanne (Sapphire Boyce), who insists her imaginary friends are real.

That insistence, and the Williamsons' penchant for giving in to Kellyanne's panicked demands, leads Rex to be mistaken one night for a "ratter," a thief poaching from another opal miner's claim. In fact, Rex was out "looking" for Kellyanne's missing companions, a loving act of imagination intended to keep his daughter calm.

The ratter charge damages the family's reputation, leading to a legal showdown. That, in turn, is followed by a lot of wish fulfillment for anyone watching who believes people really can come together over common causes — even pointless, if dear, ones.

Director Peter Cattaneo ("The Full Monty") cuts the sugary high with a gritty atmosphere and constant tension. The Williamsons' hardscrabble existence and Rex's obsessive drive, deep into the Earth, to find the colorful stone have an air of doom about them.

Which makes the film's gradual transition to whimsy either a bold gamble or a sellout. "Opal Dream" might be one of those movies that has to catch a viewer in the right mood, or be greeted with scorn.

Tom Keogh:

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