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Buck - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: A-
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A-

It's easy to assume that Buck is just a movie for horse lovers. I'm about as far as a person can get from a cowboy, though, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The crux, really, is how Buck Brannaman is described by Robert Redford, who hired him as a consultant on his film The Horse Whisperer (1998): "He was just a no-nonsense guy." Indeed, Brannaman has a uniquely genuine quality that comes through both on and off screen; "no-nonsense" is really the best way to put it. He's so easy going he's almost serene, and he's astonishingly consistent about it, whether dealing with a dangerous horse in the film or telling amusing anecdotes to David Letterman.

This is a guy who travels around the country nine months out of the year to host "clinics" to teach horse riders how best to handle their horses with gentle care -- which, as it turns out, is far more effective and easier on both horse and handler than traditionally much more abusive methods. First-time director Cindy Meehl follows him on the road from clinic to clinic, revealing more about his tragic back story along the way.

A trick roper from the age of three, Brannaman suffered violent beatings at the hands of his father, particularly after his mother passed away. A local coach happened to see the scars on his back after making him shower for gym, and ultimately saw to it that he and his brother be removed from their homes and put in the care of foster parents -- people who are part of his family to this day (his foster mother is featured fairly prominently in the film). During a childhood in which he was cripplingly shy, Brannaman found a mentor who trained horses the way he does now, and grew up to become what he is today.

And now, Buck is always open about his past, as it often becomes relevant in explaining how he empathizes with mistreated horses. In a way he's not just a horse trainer/instructor, but a motivational speaker: several people taught by him are shown talking about how the lessons they learned from him about dealing with horses helped them immensely in dealing with their everyday lives.

It sounds kind of hokey, but it doesn't come across that way at all. People are just drawn to Brannaman, and that includes audiences at this film. If anybody embodies the notion of never being particularly preachy but leading by example, it's this guy.

He's not afraid to get right to the point, though, and he does just that with a woman who raised a horse whose mother died giving birth and may have had some level of brain damage, rendering it extremely dangerous. She made a lot of ill-advised choices in the handling of this horse, which proves to be a challenge even for Buck. Meehl smartly places this sequence near the end of the film, giving it prominent focus, as it serves as a great example of human character -- both on Buck's part and on the woman who owns the horse. As he says to her, "This horse tells me a lot about you."

There's a moment where one of the guys helping Buck out, at the time the only one in the pen with the horse, gets attacked by it. The horse lunges and bites at the guy's face, giving him a rather ugly and bloody cut. This is uncommonly shocking and even horrifying, largely because up to that point, the tone of the film, and Buck's own general demeanor, has lulled us into a sort of peaceful contentment. Buck is just a pleasant guy to be around, and although it clearly pains him to have to deal with such a out-of-control horse, he still proves to be the only person who can control it in any way.

This is a guy, after all, who at another point is shown letting go of another horse's rope so the horse just walks right into a trailer of its own accord. People don't just talk about the jaw-dropping things they've seen Buck do; we see it captured on film. And he manages to keep it in perspective with his curious mixture of confidence and modesty, and in so doing brings out the humanity in both himself and others. The result is the rare feat of Buck being a feel-good documentary, as it leaves you with a strong notion of good in the world and faith in humanity.

Buck Brannaman is the original Horse Whisperer himself in 'Buck'.

Overall: A-
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