Film Review - Buck

Cindy Meehl’s poignant portrait of horse whisperer Buck Brannaman, the subject of Nicholas Evans’ best selling novel and Robert Redford’s movie, wowed audiences at the Sundance festival last year and proved a surprise box office hit in America.

At the film’s start, Buck comments “Often instead of helping people with horse problems, I'm helping horses with people problems.” It’s a philosophy that has held him in good stead on his travels across the United States and beyond and defines his particular style of natural-horsemanship. For nine months of every year Buck leaves his loving family to hold clinics for difficult horses and their owners.

Your horse is a mirror to your soul, he tells one group, before demonstrating how treating them with compassion can tame the wildest of beasts. Buck had to learn patience and respect the hard way. As children, Buck and his elder brother, Smokie, were celebrity rope-trick performers. But after their mother died, the brothers were relentlessly beaten and abused by their father, until they were taken into care by a foster family. They helped to rebuild Buck’s confidence in humans and nurtured his love of horses. His foster father taught him to shoe a horse, aged twelve, and he went on to train under celebrity horseman Ray Hunt. He then had to overcame his crippling shyness in order to set-up and run his own clinics.

Now middle-aged, Buck exudes calm confidence as Meehl follows him on the road. Interspersed with shots of him working his magic are interviews with friends and fellow horsemen and women. Redford is full of admiration and reveals that Buck was a major force in the production and subsequent success of The Horse Whisperer and even served as his horse-riding double.

Buck’s horse philosophy could just as easily be applied to humans. He can’t always perform miracles as demonstrated by a moving sequence involving a colt that was brain-damaged at birth. Sometimes, as Buck points out, the trauma is not caught early enough or runs too deep. But he is as gentle with the owners as he is with the horses, even when they are clearly to blame for their animals’ distress.

Once he has calmed a troubled horse, his aim is to make horse and rider work as one. His success is extraordinary. Buck provides a fascinating glimpse into the life of a remarkable man.

Originally published by Cine-Vue