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The Independent Critic

Buck Brannaman
Cindy Meehl
Rated PG
88 Mins.
Sundance Selects/MPI Home Video


 "Buck" Review 
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If you need yourself a shining example of the power of love to heal one's soul, you need look no further than Buck, director Cindy Meehl's beautiful and gently constructed 88-minute doc that picked up the Documentary Audience Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival sharing the difficult to prove yet incredibly true story of Buck Brannaman, known to much of the world as "The Horse Whisperer," a man who managed to turn his abusive childhood into an extraordinary gift of compassion, love, trust and communication with horses and those who love them.

The first thought that comes to mind after having seen Buck is "How did no one think to make a documentary about this guy before?" Buck Brannaman has a wonderful screen presence, sort of a Zen-like quality that exudes warmth and compassion and peace as he waxes eloquently, at times a bit too eloquently, about the relationship between man and horses and then seemingly with ease wows nearly all who cross his path. Brannaman, not surprisingly, rejects the usual punishment methods of controlling and training horses in favor of using leadership and sensitivity that seems largely based upon compassion, communication and unquestionable intuition.

The first film from Cindy Meehl, a fashion designer turned artist who first encountered Brannaman in 2003, Buck spends more time in the present but doesn't hold back from sharing the truth of Brannaman's childhood years as a trick rope performer with his brother Bill and his father, who went by Ace, who had a tendency to beat the boys when they didn't practice enough or, for that matter, whenever he felt like it. The fact that Brannaman has so completely devoted his life to a kinder, gentler way is a powerful testimony to anyone who wonders if and how the cycle of abuse and violence can be broken.

While Brannaman was the inspiration for The Horse Whisperer, he actually acquired the methods for gentle training from Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance. Once he became familiar with the methods, he embraced them entirely and has spent his entire life traveling nine months a year sharing his knowledge and wisdom with those in need.

Given the film's generally peaceful and laid back nature, one of the more shocking yet enduring scenes involves a particularly violent horse that is brought to Buck in an effort to find a way to manage the animal. After the horse ends up biting one of Buck's assistants, the decision is made by all present to have the horse put down - an obviously painful decision for all involved. Yet, it is even in these scenes that we see the full spectrum of a man who has done everything within his power to overcome his past and break away from the violence.

Meehl utilizes digital, giving the film a pristine beauty that magnificently captures the often touching interactions between horse and man, though it can also be said that Buck's strong cowboy-like presence would do well with just a touch of cinematic layer to add some atmosphere.

Buck was a Top 10 audience favorite at HotDocs, while also playing at SXSW, Full Frame, Crossroads, SilverDocs, True/False, Seattle International Film Festival, Nantucket Film Festival, Independent Film Festival Boston and Berkshire International Film Festival. Having just opened up in four theaters nationwide this past weekend, Buck goes wider this weekend including Indianapolis at Landmark's Keystone Art Cinema.

For more information on Buck, visit the Buck website.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic 
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