The way we treat animals can often speak volumes about us. The types of pets we have (or don’t have) can also say a lot about us. The behavior of the pet can often reflect a lot on its owner. If Buck Brannaman’s horses reflect on him then the man is one of the greatest people to walk this planet today.
Buck is a documentary focused on Brannaman, the inspiration for The Horse Whisperer. Buck travels across the country, about forty weeks out of the year, putting on horse training clinics. His demeanour is that of a quiet cowboy who appears to possess magical powers when it comes to training horses. People attend his clinics in hopes that Buck can help them train their horse, even when the owners have all but given up hope on their four legged friend. And train them he does, often both the horse and the owner. Buck doesn’t do this in a belligerent manner. He never chastises anyone. We never see him lose his cool. He calmly but firmly trains the horse and provides words of wisdom to the owners in that same way.
We follow Buck around the country putting on clinic after clinic. Along the way we learn more about this horse whisperer. The chilling truth about his horrific early childhood is slowly revealed. By the end of the film we understand that Buck had learned so much from his early years. He learned the kind of man he didn’t want to become from his father and found the type of man he wanted to become through the love and respect he found in his foster parents. The gentle cowboy we see on screen could have turned out much different.
Listening to the horse whisperer dispense advice as he persuades rambunctious horses to follow his every command is mesmorizing. The doc could do nothing more than focus on his training sessions and it would be a success. The director, Cindy Meehl, digs a bit deeper by revealing the hardships Buck has endured and the journey he’s been on. Possibly the only missing links are that we get a surface level view of his relationship with his wife, who he spends most of each year apart from, and always glowing reviews from his friends. There are interview snippets throughout that sing Buck’s praises or feel great sympathy for his plight early on in life but very little in the way that makes one ever believe that Buck is anything apart from a modern day saint. The picture of the man we’re left with feels void of all its colors. Some might argue this same point about another more recent documentary, Senna. The difference here is that Buck dives into quite a bit of the subject’s life while Senna is created completely from archival footage. Buck could be great. Senna reached its fullest potential given the filmmaker’s own constraints. Regardless, Buck is a very good film.
A nicely shot documentary, which is a refreshing change of pace from the run and gun lo-fi docs that dominate lately, Buck excels at putting together an entertaining and informative look at an incredibly gifted man who not only works miracles with horses but does a pretty amazing job with people too.