BUCK. Documentary featuring Buck Brannaman. Directed by Cindy Meehl. 89minutes.
Rated PG PG (Mild coarse language, themes and violence).
This is a most amiable documentary, all the more surprising because of the early hard life of its central character, Buck Brannaman. Buck is a horse trainer, one of the inspirations for The Horse Whisperer, and a consultant for that film.
Easygoing would be another word to describe the experience of watching Buck in action and learning about his story. First-time director, Cindy Meehl, obviously became an enthusiast as she went around after Buck to what he calls his ‘clinics’. These are sessions with a variety of clients (mostly in states like Montana, Wyoming or Texas) who want to learn how to handle their horses better and more humanely. This is what Buck is very good at. It is fascinating to see him communicate quietly with the horses, give them some leeway with the reins, touch them gently with cloths so that they are not afraid.
Actually, Buck makes comparisons with the development of children in his comments on how the horses react and overcome their apprehensions and fears.
Which is important for Buck. He and his brother, Smokie, travelled the west at rodeos and other events when they were young children, doing rope tricks. They worked with their father who was a hard taskmaster and used to beat them physically. When their mother died, they were taken into foster care and Buck has good memories of Mr Shirley and is in touch with Mrs Shirley (who tells a joke during the final credits – which hosts a gallery of photos). There is not much mention of Smokie and what happened to him after he grew up, something we wonder about.
Friends and clients are warm in their telling of their experience with Buck. Particularly genial is Robert Redford who recounts his experiences with Buck in the filming of The Horse Whisperer, with Buck talking amusingly about the stunt horses who couldn’t do their stunts whereas his untrained horse, with his guiding, finished a delicate scene with Scarlett Johansson in 20 minutes.
We see Buck’s family, though he is on his travels around the west for most of the year, his wife accompanying him sometimes, his daughter doing her training with her father.
This is a very pleasing and hopeful portrait of a genial man.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Madman Entertainment .
Out February 16. 2012.