Film Review: ‘Buck’


Buck Brannaman appears to be your average modern-day cowboy; yet in the equestrian world and beyond, he is nothing short of a superstar. In the inspirational and emotionally-charged documentary Buck (2011), the first feature release from Cindy Meehl, we meet an enigmatic man who possesses an extraordinary gift to communicate and heal troubled or misbehaving horses across the United States.

Buck is essentially a film about one extraordinary individual so affected by his damaged childhood that he sought to find a positive outlet for the pent-up pain. By way of incredible cathartics, Brannaman forms deep and enduring friendships with his hoofed companions to replace the failed ones with humans in his early life, eventually making a name for himself as the original ‘horse whisperer’ – inspiring the Robert Redford-starring family drama of 1995.

As Redford notes in his cameo, Brannaman goes beyond the role of wrangler and trainer; he demonstrates a true, almost poetic connection with the horses, conducting stunning exercises and techniques with them in front of their awe-struck and exasperated owners. Meehl clearly felt that this magic needed to be captured on camera after witnessing Buck in action some eight years before production began, at one of his own prestigious clinics.

The film’s interviews and therapy sequences are both well-paved and balanced – each chunk of insight offers another glimpse at a multiple-faceted boy-man. Brannaman’s childlike kindred spirit still shines through, yet his determined and decidedly less naive adult nature presides. The bond between himself and his daughter is secure but not over-affectionate – as with the horses, Buck’s human relationships are beautiful and full of love, but exist realistically and non-indulgently. The same goes for the heart-warming, witty repartee shared with his adoptive mother.

Some compelling and contrasting moments are executed in this faithful work, with Buck showcasing a lovable fighter deserving of his worldwide reputation; this insightful documentary is really quite special, and at times more than a little tear-inducing.

Alexandra Hayward